On Succos, we gather our crops, reflect on our harvest. In life, we gather our experiences, appreciate what we’ve gained
I’ve never been one for roller coasters, especially not twisters. Yet a particularly challenging period two years ago found me hurtling round life’s bends at breakneck speeds that would put even those gaily-colored rides to shame.
I fought to find my equilibrium as winds whistled past; lost it, found it, lost it again, as breath was whipped from my mouth, words wouldn’t come. There were no lines for that ride.
The year drew to a close and I took on something tiny that Elul, determined to create an opening for Hashem despite the hurt. I stood ready to crown my King, with all I’d experienced. The shofar reverberated through me, mascara trails raced down my machzor. I accept, my heart proclaimed. There was shock, grief, pain, but I accept. I felt whole that day; letting go, a fresh start.
The following day, phones rang urgently. My dad. A suspected tumor; confirmations; an actual tumor. A week later, the needle-sized opening from Elul closed with my heart, and that tiny deed disappeared with the falling leaves.
That year was a battle. Thrice daily I davened, determined to keep going, keep growing; learning to pretend life was normal when nothing was. Dad’s operation was a success, the tumor removed, and the earth exhaled as I journeyed toward acceptance.
Elul returned and attempting to thank Hashem, I took on that same step, doggedly plodding through the month. Another Rosh Hashanah, the words of Unesaneh Tokef rattling frighteningly in my ears. I davened my heart out, confident that things could only get easier. Twelve weeks later, the scans showed otherwise — the disease had returned. Oh, and I dropped that mitzvah again.
And now, it is Elul.
I don’t want to attempt the unfinished task from the last two years, I decide. The wound is still raw, bleeding; and though heavy with disappointment, I try something else instead. From Rosh Chodesh, I take on something small: Al hamichyah from a card once daily. I start doing it, I’m managing, but doubt niggles.
“I don’t feel like I’m growing,” I tell my rav, flatly. “I dropped my standards. I want to get back up, but it feels like I can’t.”
“Growth isn’t linear,” he reassures me. “Struggles come, and growth means something else entirely.” He tells me I’m doing fine, but though his words ring true, it doesn’t feel that way inside. Still, I persevere. I have a picture of al hamichyah on my phone, carry a card with the text in my purse. Slowly, it becomes habit.
Erev Rosh Hashanah. I wonder if apple and honey scare others as they do me. I prepare my machzor, listen to a shiur, hunting for inspiration. The doorbell rings.
A blue-eyed girl stands there, peers shyly past my shoulder. She mumbles unintelligibly, thrusts something at me, and darts back into a waiting car.
I finger the brown box, scanning it for clues as I tear the box open. A chesed organization’s logo peeks out. I volunteer for them weekly, do some kiruv. What is this?
Pieces of cardboard slip to the floor; my fingers grasp something cold, hard, glass. It emerges and stares up at me, refracting sunlight, dancing rainbows round the room. My vision blurs.
It is Him, He has sent it; it is beautiful.
It is an al hamichyah plaque.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 712)
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