One year, my son decided to have friends over for his birthday on a Shabbos afternoon. Unfortunately, he broke his arm while playing before the boys arrived and instead spent the day in the ER.
Because it was Shabbos, we were unable to call everyone and let them know the change in plans. So my husband went with the birthday boy to the hospital, while I stayed home to greet our guests. Once here, the boys partook half-heartedly, awkward in the absence of the man of honor. It was still a party, but without the typical frolicking, it boiled down to the essentials. The boys came, ate cake, and went home, happily admiring the contents of their goodie bags.
Curious, I thought, that this memory came to mind as the recent season of Jewish holidays neared its end. It made me grateful that we’d enjoyed a people-filled, busy, multilayered kind of Tishrei, not a condensed, pray-eat-move-on-to-the-next-thing version of the holidays. But it also made me wonder what the takeaway was.
Not enough brisket, I joked to myself, disappointed that I couldn’t eke another family meal out of the leftovers. Serious rumination, however, resulted in two better answers, valuable lessons for the year ahead.
First, there were the delays that kept me from getting to shul early on day one of Rosh Hashana. Silly things – my shoes chafed and I had to head back home so I could change them, I lost my wrap and had to retrace my steps to find it, I’d forgotten to put the lunch meal to warm in the oven. By the time I reached my seat in the pew, I was anxious and frustrated. Yet it was only because I’d gotten there later than I’d planned that I was able to focus from the get-go – no catching up with friends in the lobby, no daydreaming, no counting the pages until the end of the service. I just immersed myself in the task at hand, making up for lost praying time.
Then there was the blessing and shaking of the lulav and etrog in the sukkah. The etrog was beautiful, both in shape and color. My husband called it “our nicest etrog ever.” But what struck me most was its abundant fragrance. I kept asking myself whether it was particularly strong this year, or if it was the first time I really took notice. I especially loved how the aroma lingered on my fingertips long after I returned the fruit to its storage box.
While I did a lot praying and celebrating over the past few weeks, most of it will soon blend seamlessly with my memories of other holiday seasons and recede entirely from view. But these reminders – to make the best of things when life derails my plans and to take time to savor the gifts that come my way – are lasting standouts that I hope will give me perspective throughout the year ahead.
As for the etrog itself, once it dries, I will add it to the bowl we keep on the piano, filled with more than a decade’s worth of etrogim. I marvel that although they have lost their color and fullness, they have retained their beauty and a specter of their scent, despite the passage of time. It is that lovely aroma that is my favorite Tishrei takeaway, the sweet treat that will carry me forward until we come around this way again.