By Rabbi Ilana Krygier Lapides
“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with G-d, whatever you conceive Him to be…keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” – Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
(AJNews) – Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe are almost upon us. And the month of Elul, in which we find ourselves, creates an atmosphere of introspection after the sunny, more care-free days of summer.
As I am writing this, I am preparing to take my youngest to college in Toronto. I’m so happy for him doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing… and I’m so dreading facing the proverbial empty nest.
I know my kids still need me in their own way but it’s not the same. And the temptation is so strong to be a helicopter parent – hovering around my children and supervising their every move. The new terminology is ‘snowplow’ parent – someone who clears the path so their children can be in the world without challenges or obstacles. But I know that both of those approaches are not what is best for them.
One of my favorite stories is about a soldier who is heading home after a war. He is walking through a wooded area and spots a cocoon hanging from a tree and, with a start, he realizes that a butterfly is trying to emerge. The soldier watches as the butterfly struggles and beats its wings against the inside of the cocoon to escape.
He is moved by the butterfly’s plight, and after having witnessed so much violence and trauma, the solider steps forward to assist the little creature. He gently opens the cocoon to allow the butterfly to fly out.
But that is not what happens – instead the butterfly falls straight to the ground and is barely able to open its wings, much less fly.
The solider doesn’t understand at first but then realizes; the butterfly needs the struggle to strengthen its wings enough to fly. It is in the wrestling, the beating against the walls, and the fight, that prepares the butterfly to leave the safety of the cocoon. It is the struggle that creates resilience and allows us to fly.
Now, not all of us are parents of children, but we have all had the experience of needing to allow the universe to unfold naturally despite our desire to control it. We have all had to bite our tongue, to clasp back our hands, to watch a loved one, someone or something we care for, venture forward despite our misgivings. Even when we know best (because of course we do!) we have to let them make their own mistakes. I saw a sign that made me laugh with recognition: “Relax, nothing is under control”.
In moments when I realize I need to relinquish control I think of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, when the bad witch is flying and traces ‘Surrender Dorothy’ in the sky with her broom. While the context of the movie doesn’t lend itself, the phrase does. When I am trying too hard to control my circumstances or the people I love, I take a deep breath and think “Surrender Dorothy”. I.e., take a deep breath, loosen my grip, and float along in the river wherever it will take me. As difficult as this is, I am almost always pleasantly surprised at the results.
That said, it is difficult to have that kind of faith; to assume that, as the Desiderata quote says, “no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.” We have plenty of doubt, particularly when we are struggling with loss, or grief, or trauma, holding on by the skin of our teeth, or any number of things that are part of the human condition. But it makes our lives sweeter and less lonely when we can express that kind of faith in Hashem and in humanity. When we can admit that we don’t always know what is best, faith fills that void and creates bonds that make our lives better.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l says: “Humility (and I would extrapolate, faith) is not thinking you are small. It is thinking that other people have greatness within them.”
Rosh Hashanah provides us with a framework of a clean slate on which to register faith. But before we can put last year behind us and start fresh, eating our apples and honey in anticipation of the sweetness of a New Year, we must acknowledge the times when we held on too tightly. The times when we didn’t do what was best out of fear or shame and know that we have the opportunity to do better starting right away, if we can only have a little faith.
In this time of new beginnings, as we pray to Hashem for redemption, let us remember the comfort and kindness of our community; as we ask for forgiveness and, in turn, offer forgiveness to one another, let us find solace in our faith. And most of all, let us also seek to let go of the futile grip of relentless control and surrender, even just a little, to the beauty and wisdom of our tradition.
From my family to yours, A Gute une Gezint Yor, Shanah Tova u’Metukah!
Rabbi Ilana Krygier Lapides is the Assistant Rabbi at the Beth Tzedec Congregation. She is the Jewish Community Chaplain for Jewish Family Service Calgary. And she has her own independent Rabbinic practice at RockyMountainRabbi.com