The Days Between . . . 5778

This past week has been interesting.

As a rabbi, the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is generally filled with writing sermons. As a cantor, it is filled with learning new music and refreshing our memories of the melodies that are endemic of the High Hoy Day season.

As a rabbi AND a cantor, the week is, needless to say, filled with BOTH music and writing.

But THIS week has been filled with other, more mundane, activities.

Yes, I DID write sermons and I DID practice the High Holy Day Nusach (Nusach is the Hebrew word for the cantorial melodies chanted at services.

I learned that a very dear friend’s pet died. Sophie, her cat, was her child, her pretty, furry daughter. Any of us who has lost an animal companion can relate to the sorrow and emptiness of this kind of loss.

I grew up with dogs for most of my life. The first dog I had – and, of course, because she was the first, she’s the one I remember the most – was a Standard Poodle. She entered my life when I was 2. She was AKC certified and had one of those fancy meaningless names. I named her Baa Baa after my favorite black sheep.

She was coal black as a puppy and turned silver as she aged.

She was huge. She weighed in at around 90-100 lbs. and she was the smartest animal I have ever known.

She got cancer when I was 11 (she was 9) and my parents had to have her euthanized. I found out when I came home from school and I was disconsolate and devastated.

So I know how my friend is feeling and when I learned about Sophie yesterday, I composed a prayer for my friend to recite. This is what this rabbi did on Thursday.

This was after I went to visit another friend who needed some spiritual help. And he said I did help.

Are these “mitzvahs?” Yes, I guess they are.

One of the things I clarified for the friend I visited is that the Jewish people, in creating themselves at the foot of Mt. Sinai and for the next 40 years in the Wilderness, was to establish themselves as separate and apart from the cultures that surrounded them.

The Amalekites, the Egyptians, all the idolatrous tribes that the Jews encountered were barbaric. They worshiped gods that demanded that they sacrifice their first-born male babies by hurling them into a flaming furnace in order that their crops would be fertile. They practiced rape of young boys – and some still do today. They were brutal people. And some still exist.

The Jews, over the centuries developed a system of laws, first transmitted orally, and then ultimately written on Kosher animal skins, that was profoundly different from the rest of the Middle Eastern cultures.

It was based on kindness and compassion.

Interestingly, the very reason that we were different is the reason that we became the target of systematic annihilation for the next 3,330 years.

We became the conscience of the world.

When other civilizations are dedicated to brutality, we stand up and say, “No.” We represent everything the world seems to despise.

Justice. Not just justice either, but justice within the framework of compassion.

The point I am trying to make here is that the High Holy Days season, which includes not just Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the festivals of Sukkot, Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, is the season we are the most spiritual, and therefore the time we pay the most attention to Mitzvot, which are both commandments and good deeds. Jewish organizations all over the world ask for donations and Jews give donations to favorite charities.

The three words that symbolize the High Holy Days are “T’shuvah, T’fillah and Tzedakah,” “Returning (to the Power that created us), Prayer and Charity.”

Charity, or really Contributions, does not necessarily mean monetary contributions. Contributions can also mean “doing something to help someone else – diffusing an argument, for instance, can be a contribution to Shalom HaBayit (Peace at Home); carrying grocery bags for someone who is disabled or elderly; visiting someone who is ill or has recently lost a family member.

Little things. That’s really what it’s about. We don’t have to donate large sums of money to charities. We just have to show kindness.

And it’s not just for this time of year, either, of course. It’s all year long.

G’mar chatimah tovah (May you be sealed for good).

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