Enjoyment of the beauties of nature, . . . flower-decorated meadows, majestic mountains, flowing rivers — all these are essential to the spiritual development of even the holiest of people.
Rabbi Abraham son of Maimonides
By Rabbi Dennis-Beck Berman
Congregation Brith Achim
Rosh HaShanah is coming!
Actually, Rosh HaShanah LaElan, the Tree’s New Year. Celebrated on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which this year fell on January 28th.
Tu b’Shevat is one of the least appreciated holidays in the Jewish calendar, yet it, too, is a time for taking account of one’s life.
The Jewish mystics of 16th-century Safed breathed new life into this somewhat neglected holiday by creating a Tu b’Shevat Seder. Underlying the Kabbalistic Seder is a statement in the PalestinianTalmud (end Tractate Qiddushin): R. Hezekiah and R. Kohen said in the name of Rav: “A person is destined to give strict account for every [good] thing that they saw but did not partake.”
- Elazar heeded that teaching, and would save up small coins and with them [purchase and] partake of every [good] thing once a year.
What an amazing idea! On Judgment Day, God will take strict account of us for all of life’s legitimate pleasures that we neglected to enjoy. For it is by experiencing and appreciating these delights that we remember the God who created them.
The Talmud points out: Whoever partakes of any pleasure in this world without making a blessing is [almost like] a thief (Berakhot 35a). Since ultimately everything we enjoy is a gift from God, we are expected to say “Thank You” with a blessing.
If we do not uplift our spirit through a life of joyous holiness and appreciation for all the delights God provides on this earth, then we may easily become dispirited and sink into sadness. Perhaps that is why the Hebrew word Oneg, “delight” — as in Oneg Shabbat — shares the same three root letters as ogen, “anchor.”
Either we fill our lives with Oneg and appreciate pleasure, or else we become ogen — weighed down and depressed.
Eighteen weeks have now passed since we took stock of our successes and failures during the Ten Days of Repentance. In Hebrew, eighteen is written Chai, meaning “life.” Once again we are reminded to take account of our lives.
Have we enriched our lives with joyous worship, apples dipped in honey, delicious desserts on Shabbat, walks in the woods?
Have we partaken of the religious heritage, cultural treasures, and natural wonders that beckon us?
And have we worked to strengthen and preserve them? During these depressing days of pandemic we are challenged to choose: Have we been truly living, or merely alive?