Guest Column by Rabbi Brad Levenberg
This past summer I came across a quote from famed pianist Arthur Rubinstein that I believe sums up the theme of these High Holidays:
“As long as we have what we have inside, the capacity to love, to work, to hear music, to see a flower, to look at the world as it is, nothing can stop us from being happy. … But one thing you must take seriously. You must get rid of the ‘ifs’ of life. Many people tell you, ‘I would be happy … if I had a certain job,’ or ‘if I were better looking,’ or ‘if a certain person would marry me.’ There isn’t any such thing. You must live your life unconditionally, without the ifs.”
The High Holidays are designed to give us the opportunity to make sure that we do not live a life of ifs. Life, with all of its peaks and valleys, all of its joys and oys, all of its celebrations and its challenges, is a precious gift given to us, and we dare not squander its value.
The message of these Days of Awe is that human beings are works in progress. Each of us is an unfinished product. Our lives are what we choose to make of them — unless we allow ourselves to be shackled to the ifs of life.
Our tradition, our faith, celebrates that very notion. All of our holidays, all of our festivals, all our ritual objects, all of our traditions are designed to turn our hearts and our souls to living lives that are meaningful, that are devoid of ifs.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the very formula for that life. They help us recognize that we are both more and less than the sum of our parts. We are capable of being more than we are, and we are cognizant of being less than we can be.
These holy days find us judging ourselves against the backdrop of our deeds, our actions, our accomplishments and our disappointments.
Thus, we stand between two years: the one that was and the one about to be. We decide, each one of us, whether we are going to live a life of ifs or whether we are going to truly live life.
Certainly there are going to be disappointments, and there are going to be failures. We will in some way harm those we love and will each make promises we cannot keep. But there will also be moments of levity, moments of life and love, and moments of joy and compassion.
May we seize the opportunity to live less if and live with more determination. May we make the changes necessary to embrace the goodness that is available to us all. And if we need help, may we look to our faith and our heritage. In that way, we more readily prepare for a sweet and good year ahead.
Shana tova u’metuka.
Rabbi Brad Levenberg is the associate rabbi at Temple Sinai.