L’Chaim: A Reminder to Live, Celebrate

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By Rabbi Glenn Ettman

Parshat Emor

he end of Psalm 90 is reminding us that time management is not simply a productivity tool. It is, in fact, a spiritual exercise. Shabbat is our weekly reminder to take a moment to pause, reflect and set our sights on the bigger aspirations we have in life. Shabbat inspires us to consider the deeper implications of what life itself can be. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel encourages us to make Shabbat a palace in time by making our moments holy, special, distinct and sacred.

Each week, when I reflect on Shabbat, I encourage my community to look at the hopefulness that we can feel and see in our lives. Each week, certainly for the past year, I encourage everyone to not despair and to find the courage to move forward even when we feel blue or stuck or out-of-sorts. This week is no different.

But this week I want to challenge us to take our spiritual exercise further. Shabbat not only inspires us to come together in whatever way we can, but Shabbat obligates us to attune our hearts and souls toward the peace and solace we seek.

In the Torah, this week, we read from Parshat Emor. Within this section, we find descriptions of holidays and how to celebrate them. I find that one of the most significant teachings from this portion is how we make the time special and sacred.

We are taught that certain holidays are supposed to be  — seasons of our joy. No matter what or how we feel or what place we are in mentally or spiritually, we must find ways to celebrate time and time together.

In an interview in 1972, which turned out to be his last public statement, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was asked a question that yielded an answer that can help us prepare for Shabbat. At the twilight of his life, reflecting on the impact he had on the world through his campaigns of social justice as well as Jewish philosophy, he was asked: “What would you tell young people?”

This was his answer: “’Remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity, that every little deed counts, that every word has power and that we can, everyone, do our share to redeem the world despite all the absurdities, frustrations and disappointments. Remember that life is a celebration.”

Even as we look at the landscape of the world and our lives and find challenges in front of us, we must always remember that every little deed counts, and every moment is one when we can try to make a zman simchateinu. We must remember that every word not only has power, as Heschel teaches, but is significant because it helps us learn, grown, communicate, create community and ultimately come together in some way.

One of Judaism’s greatest gifts to the world is the sense of optimism no matter what. There is no question in my mind that the reason why when we raise a glass to make a toast we say the words l’chaim — to life — is because it is through life and living that lives are touched.

And it is through life and living that worlds are created and peace is pursued. We must be remember that life is a celebration — of all the messy, beautiful, heart-filled and hopeful things we can find.

And so my prayer for each of us is this: May we find a heart of wisdom. May we be inspired by the words and deeds around us to do more and to fight, strive, and work to make the world a safer and better place for our children. And may we be inspired to find our life celebrations — even if it is just raising a glass and toasting l’chaim. When we remind ourselves to live, we will.

Rabbi Glenn Ettman is the rabbi at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill and also serves as the chaplain of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.


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