High Holiday Reflections

This was not my proudest week. I’ve been feeling awful, crummy, and burdened with a sense that life is being held together with bubble gum and shoe string. While I normally feel like I have this wife and mother thing figured out, I was put in my place by a mix of frantic car shopping, a broken air conditioner (which we still needed even in September), failed plans, a messy house that was beginning to drive me mad, lack of sleep, and a very real case of terrible twos that I am still trying to figure out how to deal with. It has been a week of a constant battle in my mind between one half insisting that I am doing okay and will conquer the chaos, and the other latching onto feelings of failure and defeat.

Now we enter into the holiday season, where my time is consumed with Rosh HashanahYom Kippur, and Sukkot. While I am about to face many hours at our synagogue over the next couple of weeks, preparing various foods for the numerous community meals, and an overall topsy turvy schedule, you would think that the constant rush would push my anxiety over the edge. On top of the hustle and bustle of holiday season, this is also a time of heavy reflection and acknowledgement of the ways we fall short as humans, as if I didn’t have enough guilt over my faults recently. Yet as Shabbat rolled in on Friday night I was able to release the breath I had been holding in all week, and take in rush of fresh air.

As a major control freak it is almost as if the sudden burst of stress and panic was a form of pre-holiday preparation. I am regularly attempting to force life to go my way, stepping in to do everything myself when I feel things are going opposite of what I desire. If you were to ask me who the ultimate authority is over my life I would quickly answer “G-d“, and deep down I know that to be true. In practice, however, it seems as if I am making routine attempts to high jack that authority for myself. This week I had to acknowledge all of the strengths I lacked, and confront my weaknesses. I failed at so many things, and the tasks that I did successfully accomplish took so much energy and effort that it didn’t feel at all like achievements. By the time Shabbat arrived I was completely drained.

As we inched closer to this holiday season I had so many plans and goals. I wanted a cleaner house, better food prepared, less stress, more confidence in my parenting, and I wanted the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah to be filled with excitement and anticipation. Instead I received what I truly needed. This week of chaos left me with little of what I had set my mind to. My ego was bruised and my confidence wounded. It left me the way we all should feel coming into these holidays. Broken and ready for repair.

This is the time of year when we face G-d straightforward. Admitting our defects can make these days heavy and difficult, but there is also a sense of freedom accompanied with our confessions. It is commanded that we set aside this precious time to reflect, and while our worship is directed solely onto Him, this is also a time for our benefit. Last week I continued to push through and spared no time to regather myself, and if I struggled with that in one week then imagine what the rest of my year looks like.

Our all knowing G-d tells us to pause. We are drowning, and our instinct is to flail our limbs in every which way as we try to save our panicked selves, which only accelerates our sinking. Instead, what we need is to be still long enough to float on the surface. We are told these holidays “…shall be to you like a Sabbath…“, and we are expected to set everything aside to rest, observe, and sift through the deepest places in our hearts. We are to halt our panic, and instead calmly rise away from whatever is pulling us under.

In between the food, music, and schmoozing, there is the uncomfortable and intimidating process of encountering our transgressions, whether they are against another person or G-d Himself. For anyone who truly takes these holidays for what they are, it is a tough process. Just like swallowing a spoon full of medicine. However, just like medicine, once we overcome the initial challenge we can feel ourselves begin to heal. We can realize what it is in our everyday life that leaves us broken, and start to repair for the future. We are not stuck on a carousal of saying and doing the wrong things. Through the Days of Awe we are receiving a chance to step away, realize where we are going wrong, and decide to change. We are given the chance to catch our breath before we re-enter the title wave of everyday life.

As I think back on the core feelings I experienced just within this past week, I can pin point sensations of pride, envy, jealousy, distrust in G-d, and various other experiences that can be traced back to my sinful nature as a human being. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are reminders that I cannot save myself, and with all the mistakes I make in my life that is an incredibly reassuring reminder. I know that if I were expected to provide my own salvation I would fail gravely, just like I fail at so many other things. Just as G-d continues to hold our hands through the process of accepting that redemption, He provides us a time to step out of our routine in order to reevaluate what that deliverance means for us.

It means we have another chance to do better. We do not need to be enslaved to our mistakes, and they do not have to define us. Humanity has such a hard time admitting that we do wrong, and our excuses can run rampant when our sins catch up with us. When we are forced to bow our heads in defeat and admit our faults, setting excuses and denial aside, we are able to begin the process of improvement.

I want my life to be so much more than balancing between justifying my wrong doings and hanging over feelings of guilt. I want to be revived when my imperfections overpower me, and be continuously molded so that whoever I am when I decease is the best person I could possibly be. I should be able to refocus whenever I make a mistake. I should be able to recall everyday the fact that G-d provides for me what I cannot provide myself, while also giving me the power to overcome my lapse of righteousness and goodness. Among all of my other struggles, however, is my forgetfulness to pause and reflect. When the average day becomes too much for me to handle I once again start to drown in my panic, forgetting to still myself long enough to be lifted above the surface. So I am given Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A time to encounter what is most difficult in my life, be freed from it’s subjection, and brought further into the dominion of The One who truly holds His merciful authority over my life.

And that is such a sweet experience every single time.

Mothers: An Image of G-D

We live in an age where women are not bound to a specific role in life. They can heal people as doctors, defend justice as lawyers, spread knowledge as teachers, voice a message as authors, or lead an entire nation as politicians. Women have the ability to be of great influence, and they can choose among a variety of opportunities in life.

For those women who choose to stay home with their children, it can sometimes be discouraging to think about our worldly influence. While we proudly make the decision to put all our efforts into raising a family, our self-worth can be damaged by the question of “what do you do?”. It sometimes may seem that people ask that question expecting to hear something exciting and worthwhile. When we answer “I stay home”, it’s suddenly as if our influence in the world is minuscule. All believers strive to have a role in the coming of the kingdom. We all want to participate in bringing forth “tikkun olam” (repairing of the world). If we choose to stay in our homes, concentrating on our specific family, how are we ever going to contribute to G-d’s greater plan? It’s a question many of the stay at home mothers I know struggle with.

Overall I don’t dwell on this question too much. I’m thrilled to do what I do, and I chose to stay home because I feel it is a necessity for my family. G-d made it very clear to me that I need to focus on my child, and I dare not question His intentions for me. That does not mean, however, that I am not struck with self-consciousness every now and then, especially when I’m speaking to someone who is out and about changing lives through their work. Every now and then I need something that uplifts my spirits, and reminds me that my role in life is worth a great deal.

A great encouragement, however, came this past weekend at my community’s annual women’s retreat. The theme this year focused on being created “in the image of G-d”, and how we as women reflect that image. For part of the time we glanced at the characteristics of G-d, and how He possesses both masculine and feminine traits. We are familiar with the masculine language used to describe G-d (such as the Bible’s use of the word “He”, or referring to Him as “The Father”), but there are also times when G-d is compared to a motherly figure as well (Isaiah 66:13, or Luke 13:34 for example).

For me, this presented a new and improved perspective as the matriarch of my household. We know that G-d created both man and woman in His image, as stated in Genesis 1:27. However, the first time we see G-d declaring something as “not good” is in Genesis 2:18 when He says that it is not good for man to be alone. As G-d is the definition of what is good, His reflection (man) should be good as well. So G-d solved this by giving man a woman.

This small detail really hit me, and it’s something I have been thinking about ever since coming home from the retreat. I had already known that my son needs both a mother and father figure for a variety of practical reasons. However, I walked away from this weekend realizing that together as man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, two people working as one unit, we present a reflection of G-d.

The two distinct roles of father and mother are not required solely for the every day functions of our house. These roles are needed to help show my son who G-d is. G-d presents Himself in many ways, whether it’s through His word, prophetic dreams or visions, blessings, the words of our congregational leaders, or even the actions of complete strangers. One of these manifestations is the reflection a father and mother show their children. The role of a mother, half of a complete image of G-d, is no small thing to be. It is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly, and one that can have great impact not only in the lives of her children, but in the world as a whole.

As we raise our kids we are presenting them with a message and way of life that will be passed down from generation to generation. They are the future. The people who will continue leading by example and spreading this message. What we instill in them will be spread to their friends, their coworkers, their own children. There is something special and important in the decision to give up any personal success in order to focus solely on one’s family. It’s something that shouldn’t make us feel ashamed, but proud. We see that what we impress upon our children will have a variety of ripple effects, so we might as well give it our all.

This does not mean that G-d expects all women to stay home with their children. It does not mean that there isn’t another purpose and path that G-d may lead some women through. Women have made great impacts throughout history outside of their homes, and they too have contributed to tikkun olam. Their work should never be diminished, and everyone should be encouraged to follow the path G-d has set forth for them, traditional or not. It most certainly doesn’t make them any less of a mother.

I am, however, saying that those of us who choose a more subtle and traditional life are worth something as well. We are not stuck in the house because we would be unsuccessful in other areas of life. We are not the weakened damsels who remain locked away at home under our husband’s enslaving authority. Our kids are not the chains that make our lives a miserable Hell. That imagery is pathetically deceitful, yet very common in the mindset of general society these days.

We are so much more than that. We too strive to accomplish G-d’s work, and we have a purpose in our roles. We play a part in the completed reflection of who G-d is, and we present that image to our children who will continue the progress of tikkun olam.

So, remember that next time someone asks “what do you do?”.

You strive to present the future generations with the image of G-d.

Above all else, that is what we were created to do.