Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Life and Judaism: Action, reflection, reaction

I don't pay much attention to Valentine's Day...or many other "Hallmark" holidays, as it were. I don't believe in setting aside one day, making it more special than other days, to tell people how very much we care about them. Especially if it means we don't think about them the rest of the year, or don't put in much effort at other times too. I feel the same way about holidays. I don't preach to Jews to take stock of their lives and an accounting of their souls only during the Yamim Nora'im (High Holidays). I want people to be examining their lives and their actions year-round, in a daily discipline.

I say all of this because I believe that the way we treat others, and the way we treat ourselves, should be an ongoing process of action, reflection, and reaction. I also believe this to be a valuable means of engaging with our own sense of Judaism. And, luckily, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Recently, I heard a colleague talking about the dilemma of making everyone aware of all the different organizations that exist in the Jewish world, incorporating all of the different values and concepts of Judaism into daily practice (or, specifically into Religious Education curriculum), and not feeling overburdened by missing any key concepts, philosophies, thoughts, or beliefs. It's a challenge - that's for sure. But it's also not a finite task. We don't usually have only one shot at integrating all the important things about Judaism that we want to integrate. And we also can't consider these to be finite tasks - there should be ongoing reflections of our actions and reactions, in Judaism and in life.

Let me give you a concrete example from life: About a week ago I was at the drugstore and a woman in a wheelchair was in front of the item I needed. I patiently waited until she was done and then grabbed what I was there for. She began to apologize profusely for being in my way, talking about how the chair was too bulky for the small aisles, and that I should have just asked her to move. I told her that the apology was unnecessary and that I would have waited, regardless of whether she was in the wheelchair or not. And then I added that, in fact, it was not her responsibility to move, since I was the one who's mobility was much easier to maneuver. She and I struck up a conversation about the difficulty of being disabled and the way in which one feels like a burden to the non-disabled world.

I must admit that even a few years ago, I'm not sure I could have had this conversation with her. But, recently, my own mother became wheelchair-bound. And it has opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind to a world that was previously unknown to me - the difficulty of existing differently in this world. And I'd like to think that not only do I have a sensitivity to that difference, but upon reflection, my reaction can be to help others who are disabled feel more comfortable in a world that is difficult to maneuver. And I've learned to incorporate this type of reaction into all parts of my life - personal, professional, at the synagogue, socializing with friends, etc. And I don't believe it should be contained to National Disability month or any other specially designated time. These are the kinds of actions, reflections, and reactions that can occur throughout our lives and that become integral to who we are.

So, too, is it with Judaism. Are we being welcoming enough? Are we focusing enough on social action or tzedakah? On outreach and engagement? On learning, knowledge, text? On prayer and ritual? How do we integrate them all without giving one too much attention while ignoring the others?

It's easy to be overwhelmed by it all. But it's even easier to remember that we don't have to do it all at once. We focus on a few key things - act, reflect, and react - and then suddenly they are integral to who we are.I believe the best way we can live our lives is through the ongoing process of living and learning, acting and reacting, and reflecting on the very many important issues that create the fabric of our lives.

No comments: