Shabbat Nitzavim September 27, 2019

Shehecheyanu V’keyamanu V’higianu La-zeman Ha-zeh. Blessed are You, Sovereign God who has given us life, who has sustained us and who has enabled us to reach this day.

This is the berachah, the benediction for new beginnings. It is the blessing Judaism prescribes for the ‘firsts’ in our lives. For the eating of first fruits. For the wearing of a new garment. It is the perfect benediction for Rosh Hashanah.

At the turning of the new year, it is life that preoccupies us. Again and again at this season, we pray: Zocreinu L’chayim – Remember us unto life, O Sovereign who delights in life and inscribe us in the Book of Life, O God of Life.

The philosopher Ortega y Gasset once wrote: “In birth, we are like sleep walkers thrust upon the stage. Then life becomes a problem that must continually be resolved.” Truly, none of us asks to be born. Life is something that originates outside of the self. But for the Jew, life is not a problem. It is gift. It is windfall. It’s winning the lottery. It is a blessing to be savored, celebrated and appreciated to the fullest. Though to be sure this is an orientation towards being not always easy to sustain.

Life can certainly present us with any number of difficulties and challenges. Woody Allen once wrote that his great regret in life was that he was not born someone else, and I suspect that is a malady that afflicts all of us at one time or another. Where is the person completely content with the shape of his or her age, body, bank balance, IQ? We look at what other people have, their achievements and good fortune and we too begin to wish that we had been born someone else.

The Rabbis ask, “Who is the wealthy one?” Their answer, “The person who is content with his or her portion in life.”

By that standard the wealthiest man I ever met was a man named Bud Fisher. Though his life had seen its share of trouble, Bud was happy. Happy to have been born a little boy. Happy to have his given name, which was really Julius. Happy to grow up in his family of origin, in his town, to have gone to his school. He was happy to have worked in the food business. Happy to have married and have raised his children. Happy to have pursued his vocation and avocations. Towards the end of his life, Bud suffered a series of increasingly more debilitating heart attacks, but - to his doctors’ amazement - Bud just kept on living. He explained it this way. “In the Torah, in the beginning, God saw all that was made and ‘it was good.’ Well, that’s the way God and I look at my life, and we both intend I should keep living it just as long as I possibly can.”

In the beginning, God saw all that was made v’hinay tov m’ohd - and behold it was very good. I think that is the way God feels when any and all of us come into being. If we could just hold onto God’s estimation of our life then we might be more able to pick up with hands of appreciation the gifts and blessings that are ours to enjoy.

Yes, life can be challenging which is why at this season we lift the glass and wish our loved ones and friends a good and sweet year. And we do so with the words, L’chaim. L’chaim. To life.

Shabbat Shalom and I wish you a shanah tovah u’metukah

Rabbi Whiman