(a de-stressing pre-holiday thought)
The lead up to the High Holidays is a stressful time for all. Rabbi’s are busy putting their sermons together, cantors are tuning up their voices. Jewish homes are preparing brisket or other delicious delights, families are getting the invites out and deciding who will sit next to whom etc.
For many, this time of year is a time when we just can’t be bothered by the extra things in life. It is not a good time to ask me for a favor or to go that extra mile – though normally I am happy to help – as I am busy doing the other things that are pressing.
I remember my father once sharing with me that things are either urgent or important or both. Urgent means it needs my attention immediately. Important means that it is high priority even the highest priority but it may not need to be addressed right away.
I’ll give you an example. If you get a deep cut on your hand and it is bleeding profusely, you must address it immediately, but in the scheme of health matters it is relatively minor. If you have a major health crisis (the big c) that is hugely important but often you can’t do anything about it immediately. If you can, then it would be both urgent and important.
While many things are important at this time of year, I try to spend my time on the things that are urgent. My sermon, my preps for myself or the shul must be attended to now since Rosh Hashanah is not waiting for me. The other “important” things, like making sure the Shul is funded, might be more important but it is less urgent at this time.
So when I received a call from a sad woman in Roxbury (formerly from the North Shore, no clue how she got my cell) who had a lengthy story about some recertification for her public health services that she is receiving and the appointment was scheduled for Rosh Hashanah I wasn’t overly enthusiastic.
First of all, it is quite possible that she is allowed by Jewish law to get the recertification on Rosh Hashanah as it is for a significant medical health need. Additionally, she is not a congregant, she doesn’t live anywhere near me (and never did) and randomly got my number and now I had to decide do I want to give the time needed to address this or pass the buck or just ignore her pleas?
The passage of Hillel from Ethics of our Father 1:14 fell into my mind. “ If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” My good inclination prevailed and I took the time to understand her issue, get the info on the necessary parties that needed to be contacted. I reached out to them waving my rabbinic hat and her appointment was now rescheduled.
I figured, while this might be the last thing on my mind, and it is not urgent to me, to this woman it is the first thing on her mind. To her it is both urgent and important, and “if not now, when?” My schedule is only going to get more hectic and Hashem sent her to me and not any other closer Rabbi it must be a mission for me to address.
This brought this important message to me and in an urgent way. Of course our sermons and briskets and other Holiday preparations are important or urgent (to us) but are they really what should be front and center of our mind and our focus at this time of year? What, in fact, are actually praying for? With what currency are we praying and paying for Gd’s beneficence? Is it not by helping out this poor woman in her time of distress?
This time of year we need to realize that it is urgent… to do that which is important. Sometimes, doing what you don’t want to do is exactly what you need to be doing.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Schusterman
Thanks to my brother, Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman, of Chabad Peabody Mass., for sharing the above Torah thought