Rosh Hashanah 5781: Recalibrating extras and essentials

By Rabbi Zolly Claman

Rabbi Zolly Claman

(AJNews) – The year of 5780 corresponding to the secular year of 2020 will be remembered as anything but ordinary. The world at large experienced a complete upheaval and as individuals there was so much pain, suffering and loss.

This edition of Alberta Jewish News for Rosh Hashana 5781, represents a freshly turned page away from the year of struggle. This era, however, did not come without silver linings.

As a parent of young children, I can tell you that when school started it was hard to see them return to other influences. As positive as school can be, there was something exceptional about being able to create our own little bubble and oasis at home. Having them at home with us was a true blessing.

Another silver-lining was the complete re-calibration of what it means to be “essential.”  Our lives are blessed with a multitude of extras. We live in a society where the average person is exposed to around 7000 advertisements per day – each one vying for our emotional investment ultimately blurring the line between need and want, between the essential and non-essential.

We have become accustomed to perceive the extras as essential. Take our phones as an example, where we do pretty much everything from them and where making a simple phone call has become their least used feature! Many times, of course, all the ‘extras’ are beautiful and convenient, but our downfall is perceiving them as needs, thus losing sight of what really is indispensable.

At the start of the lock-down era, we saw the closing of all non-essential business, as society was stripped down to its most fundamental and basic iteration. Hospitals, pharmacies and groceries were what remained functioning, while everything else was forced to close their doors.

Along with the non-essential businesses, synagogues around the globe followed suit. Here was a powerful example of this re-calibration. The essential aspect of Judaism is our personal relationship that needs to be nurtured and cultivated within the home. Coming to synagogue, like being able to do banking on our phone, is the cherry on top. It is beautiful and important, to mold ourselves, our homes and our families into a community – pray and grow together, however Judaism within the home is the only truly essential aspect. What does the Shabbat table look like when there is no kiddush at shul to fall back on? Is there excitement, song and joy that accompany the Friday night candles even without the joint Lecha Dodi at synagogue? Are we committed to the Shema even though no one is watching? These are the essential aspects of our relationship with G-d.

The surreal reality of seeing society humbled to a bare-bones existence encouraged us to scrutinize every aspect of our lives and deem it essential or extra. Even personally, having done the ‘juggle-struggle’ of balancing being a teacher / camp counselor / friend / father / husband and community Rabbi all in a day’s work, certain aspects of routine had to be reassessed. What would make the cut and be embraced as ‘essential’?

Within a spectrum the answer is most certainly subjective whereas certain things humanity at large agrees upon. The importance of relationships in our lives are essential.

I had a very typical reaction to many at the start of the lockdown; I called old friends and mentors that I had lost touch with through the years to catch up. The extra time on our hands reminded us of the most important asset we have in our lives – our family and relationships.

If there is one commitment we must all make while the world starts to open up this year, it should be to draw a bold line separating the essentials from the extras. With that done we will become much better at making sure that the former never gets sacrificed in order to indulge in the latter.

On Rosh Hashana we will all pray to be sealed in the book of life. May this year bring healing and recovery. And may we all experience it with a refreshed appreciation of the essential components in our lives.

Rabbi Claman is Rabbi at the Beth Israel Synagogue a – Modern Orthodox Congregation – in Edmonton.






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