The importance of not being too earnest

Reprinted from the Shofar - Oraynu's newsletter


Rabbi’s Message:

Fun! At our summer book club meeting, I asked everyone to talk about one fun thing they did this summer. I hope you have spent the summer chasing after fun! I often dedicate my message in the Shofar to serious topics. I know people look to Oraynu and sometimes to me for guidance, or hope, especially in hard times. For that, come to Yom Kippur where I’ll discuss “How Humanists Handle Hard Times.” I hope that my commentaries at the upcoming High Holidays, along with our beautiful services filled with poetry and music, will inspire you. They do, indeed, centre on weighty topics. But we don’t need to be in High Holiday mode just yet. It’s the very tail end of summer and we should celebrate.

Often we Jews concentrate too much on what is serious. I’ve said before we need to be a little bit more “out with the ‘Oy’ and in with the joy!”. Looking into the life of Gene Wilder for our Yom Kippur Story of Transformation reminded me that in order to be serious, one also must laugh. I know this to be true from many spheres of my life. The most challenging parts of life are best met with a healthy dose of humour. I’ve seen people laugh in reminiscing about departed loved ones. I’ve seen Holocaust survivors make a dark joke, using gallows humour to cope with their trauma. I’ve seen parents face their child, having an epic meltdown, make a funny face, and change the whole mood. Yes, we are facing some very challenging times. We need to respond intellectually and emotionally. To do so, we sometimes also need to let go, we need to relax, we need to laugh, and we need to have fun.

This summer I made it my business to maximize the fun in each day. I said yes to so many wonderful things: cottage time, time with my family, playing in the park with my kids, outdoor movies and plays, dates with my husband, checking out new patios, delicious food and drink, all the ice cream I could handle, and more. I have been having a lot of fun and I hope you have too!

In the month before Rosh Hashanah, the month of Elul, one is supposed to study, to reflect, to get ready for the new year and the introspection of the High Holidays. Here’s your homework on how to do that this year: I want you to spend some serious time on fun. I want you to have it, and I want you to think about it. How do you most enjoy spending your time? If you could do one fun thing this upcoming year, what would it be? How can you bring more fun into your family or friendships? How can you make fun a priority in the upcoming year of 5778? I want you to think about it, perhaps write down a few fun goals, and then make a plan to make that fun happen. Why is this High Holiday prep? Because as we get ready to “cheshbon our nefeshes” (cheshbon hanefesh is accounting for the soul; the deep introspective work that leads to commitments for personal growth in the upcoming year), we will actually be more successful if we strive for balance. I hope your goals for yourself include tzedakah (charity, justice), learning, political engagement (whatever that means for you), helping others, and other serious pursuits. I want you to spend time thinking of those worthwhile plans and goals. I know that you, we, will all be more successful at them if we dedicate at least as much focus and attention on the lighter and brighter aspects of life. We all need balance. So, yes, at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will be a little serious. Let’s make time before and after that to be a little frivolous. 

As we approach the end of summer, there is a poem I think of. It has to do with summer, it reminds me of the goal-setting work of the upcoming High Holidays, and it asks us to consider nature, our place in the world, and who we wish to be. I want to share it with you:


The Summer Day - Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

So, before summer comes to an end, let’s devote ourselves to at least one fun goal. Perhaps a hike, spending quality time with a grasshopper or two. Perhaps a dinner with dessert first. Perhaps a walk with a good friend, a hot tea, and some juicy gossip. Perhaps time alone in a quiet spot with a magazine and a glass of wine. Perhaps find a spot in the city you’ve never explored before and spend an afternoon learning about it. At least one fun goal. Rabbi’s orders.

As we look ahead to our year, we have a lot coming up that will be fun. We also have programs that will be challenging, interesting, exciting, and more. I do hope to see lots of you this coming year. Until I do see you, I wish you wellness, happiness, peace and, yes, lots and lots of fun