“All the world is a very narrow bridge,
And the essential thing is not to to be afraid … at all.”
— Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav
The bridge feels really narrow, sometimes
And I don’t know anyone, myself included,
who isn’t at all afraid.
We’ve been battered and bruised,
scared, traumatized, infected;
Even if our own lives have been fairly quiet,
we know that nearby
people are dying from COVID;
people are struggling with illness, addiction,
just plain parenting in a pandemic;
people are working on the front lines:
and first responders and
community organizers and
grocery store clerks and meat packers and nursing home aides
whose jobs are suddenly understood to be essential —
there are people in neighborhoods nearby
who bear the brunt of violence
and the ravages of COVID
whose jobs require them to be in-person and hands-on
and take public transportation
and scramble for childcare
But I think it’s ok to be afraid.
To be afraid, and grieve, and be angry,
and throw up our hands and think about quitting!
not to understand what the world is coming to
or to be afraid of what’s coming.
It’s ok to be afraid of change;
it’s ok to be afraid there won’t be change.
Even for the most resilient among us,
there are days when it’s hard to hang on to hope.
But we have two choices:
Give up, or go on.
Our Yom Kippur Torah reading says it clearly:
Life and death I set before you, blessing and curse:
Choose life, so that you and your descendents may live. (Deut 30:19)
The thing about “choosing life” is that you don’t do it once
and then never have to do it again.
You have to choose life
over and over.
On days when you feel like it, and on days when you don’t.
You have to say “yes” to life every day, at least a little bit.
But we can’t do it alone all the time!
We need to support each other, in saying
“Yes” to life,
“yes” to a future,
“yes” to shaping that future
for the better.
V’ha-ikar lo l’fached k’lal.
The important thing is to maintain our balance,
not get too distracted,
keep on moving forward.
Not everything we try
will work out
the way we want it to.
In fact, a lot of things will fail.
Sometimes it feels like a lot of things are failing
But writer Catherine Madsen says,
To be a Jew is to see the world, all the time, as being amenable to redemption. To see the world at its worst and not despair; to sense constantly, with our blood and our nerve endings, the possibility of change. …
Because whatever we’re facing today,
we have seen it before.
The Jewish past offers some real perspective
on the future.
There’s a reason we have a joke
that the theme of every Jewish holiday is
“They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”
It’s not actually the theme of every holiday,
but there’s a kernel of truth.
We are here tonight
because the Jewish people has proven that it is possible to survive,
under every kind of condition.
We know suffering.
And we know joy.
And we know that to survive the suffering,
we have to find the joy in everyday life.
Joy gives us the resilience
to meet what the world hurls at us.
And we need community in order to say “yes” to life.
We need to share laughter. And food,
even if it’s a no-contact drop-off.
And poetry. And music. And services.
We need joy. Even in the face of suffering.
We need togetherness.
We need the rest and renewal of Shabbat.
We need the promise of a new year.
So as we begin the new year,
I invite you to take a deep breath,
celebrate your survival,
and go on.
because merely asking that 5781
be a better year than 5780
is setting the bar way too low,
I offer this wish:
May the new year bring good things
and all that you love.
And I say that to the world.
To you, to all of you, everywhere,
and all that you love,
to all that is beloved