Today we read in the Torah the story of creation. I came across a cute little piece about the creation of man recently. It’s titled: “Life Explained.” Let me share it with you:
On the 1st day, Gd created the dog and said, “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of 20 years.”
The dog said, “That's a long time to be barking. How about only 10 years and I’ll give you back the other 10?” So Gd agreed.
On the 2nd day, Gd created the monkey and said, “Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give you a 20-year life span.”
The monkey said, “Monkey tricks for 20 years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back 10 like the dog did?” And Gd agreed.
On the 3rd day, Gd created the cow and said, “You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family. For this, I will give you a life span of 60
The cow said, “That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for 60 years. How about 20 and I’ll give back the other 40?” And Gd agreed again.
On the 4th day, Gd created humans and said, “Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you 20 years.”
But the human said, “Only 20 years? Could you possibly give me my 20, the 40 the cow gave back, the 10 the monkey gave back, and the 10 the dog gave back; that makes 80, okay?”
“Okay,” said Gd. “You asked for it.”
So that is why for our 1st 2o years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next 40 years, we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next 10 years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last 10 years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
Life has now been explained to you. There is no need to thank me for this valuable information. I’m doing it as a public service. If you are looking for me, I will be on the front porch!
Of course this account of man’s creation doesn’t conform to the Torah’s story and in this scenario, life seems so scripted. And for many, life is like that—going through the same expected tired routine day after day, week after week. The routine will change as we enter new phases of life, but then it becomes a new soon-to-be tired routine all over again. That’s why Gd, in His genius, has given us so many holidays. It forces us to break our routines and focus on what’s really important.
There’s a technique in education and psychotherapy called “processing.” This means that after a significant event or experience the teacher or therapist suggests reflecting back on one’s experiences. In the classroom the teacher might have a discussion about the student’s experience or even do a project. In therapy there will be a deep analysis of what happened relating it to other events in life. In this way we can incorporate the lessons of that event or experience and it becomes part of us.
This past month has been jam-packed with powerful moments in Jewish life. From the cry of the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah to our loudly declaring, Hashem Hu haElokim, “Hashem is our Gd,” at the close of Yom Kippur to leaving our homes and sitting under the shade of Gd in the Sukkah to singing and dancing night and day with our beloved Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah. There has been no shortage of climactic moments in our spiritual lives this past month.
The problem is…what’s next? What do we do with those experiences? All too often, however, these moments of inspiration become faded memories of the past as we return to our old routines. What happens now after we have put away our etrog and lulav and taken down the sukkah? This is where processing comes in: spiritual processing.
It’s no coincidence that Sukkot is also called Chag Ha’asif, the “The Harvest Holiday,” in the Torah. Our sages teach that this “harvest” is not only a harvest of physical accumulations of crops, it’s also a harvesting of spiritual accumulations—a time to take stock of what we have tended to this month and hopefully produced in our spiritual fields, in our hearts, in our minds and in our souls.
The Jewish holidays are not meant to be pockets of time isolated from the rest of year. They are intended to be times of greater focus and closer connection with the values and meaning our lives should reflect all year-round.
For example, the faith we speak of on Passover—that Gd loves us and will not abandon us, that He will save our people when they’re in trouble as He did in Egypt—is not limited to Passover; it’s merely accentuated for a week in order that it be more alive in our hearts throughout the year. Our recognition and proclamation of Gd as King—Who sustains and judges the world—is not an idea meant strictly for Rosh Hashanah. It’s given a spotlight on that day in order that we fortify our commitment to that throughout our lives. Our shaking the etrog and lulav on Sukkot in all directions in gratitude to Gd Who is everywhere is not just for Sukkot. Those feelings of gratitude in our hands and arms that we had shaking the etrog and lulav, should be felt in our muscle memory and hearts for the entire year. Each holiday highlights a different value of Jewish life so that it be reinforced and further developed in our lives thereafter.
No one who observed this month’s holidays went through them untouched. Whether it was something the rabbi said or something your friend said, the sweet and inspiring melodies of the High Holidays, the ascent to life as an angel on Yom Kippur, the joy of life under Gd’s protection in the Sukkah, or the dancing—celebrating our love for Torah on Simchat Torah—there was something for everyone. Now we need to process it and transform it from an uplifting moment to growth and development.
So take a few minutes this Shabbos, before it’s too late, and process it. Have a discussion with your spouse, your children, your friends and especially yourself. What touched you in the past month? What will you do to translate that into something concrete that you can incorporate into your life? Have you changed at all for the better and will you keep going in that direction? In other words, what does your spiritual harvest consist of?
The true test of how you celebrate the holidays is not how you blow the shofar, but how long its blast resonates in your heart—not how you put up the sukkah, but what happens after you take it down. Grab hold of this incredible opportunity, and make this not the end of the holiday season, but rather the beginning a new and better year. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis