Sitting at a lunch table in one of our preK classrooms today, I offered an innocent question: “So, what are you each doing after school today?” I listened along with the other children as each student responded in kind. One boy explained,
“First, my babysitter’s picking me up. Then, we’re making rainbow cookies. Then, I’m going to the Lower East. Then, I’m meeting daddy.”
His neighbor, not content to let such a list of activities go by unexamined, stood up and said, “You can’t make rainbow cookies!” What I heard, aside from the proposed futility of the baking task, was, “Hold on a second. Forget all that other stuff. Let’s talk about what really matters here – rainbow cookies!”
The dialogue provided, for me, a chance to reflect on the rhythm of our lives around Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebrated tonight through Friday night. Maybe these boys were on to something: why concern ourselves with a list of “to-dos” when we can slow down and focus on what really matters? And is it OK if what really matters is the contentious issue of rainbow cookies?
We first hear about the Jewish New Year in the Torah, as Moses is told that we should celebrate by enjoying a “complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” (Leviticus 23) We do pretty well with the “loud blasts” – the sound of the shofar has been everywhere in the school recently, and will be heard in synagogues around the world over the next two days.
But what about the “complete rest” part? How do we find the time, the will, to slow down and rest in the midst of our lives as parents, as professionals, as New Yorkers?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination. He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.” To find rest, we must walk away from the day-to-day activities that we find so difficult to escape. The new year allows us, begs us, to find peace and holiness through a different use of our time. We need not be concerned with the doing of the clattering commerce; we can turn our focus instead to the being in a peaceful, restful state of mind.
Having thus consulted the Torah and Rabbi Heschel for their perspective on rest, I turn next to a pair of poets who are themselves deep thinkers on the topic of peace, rest, love, and relationships. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, of the Indigo Girls, write and sing, “Why do we hurtle ourselves through every inch of time and space/ I must say around some corner, I can sense a resting place.” I think this is what our preK boys were getting at over lunch. Sure, we can run off a list of the many “things” that lie in front of us; yes, we can fret over the many activities we must plan and prepare for in the coming days and weeks. But why hurtle through them?
What is the value of our time if we cannot, occasionally, press “pause”? Perhaps one can bake rainbow cookies; perhaps one can’t. But what matters is that we have the next two days to slow down, push aside all that lies on our shoulders, and dig in to whatever it is in our lives that really matters to us. We can find that place of rest and calm. And if it happens to be rainbow cookies, I want your recipe!
Wishing you and your family a shana tovah and a sweet new year,