Gam Zeh Ya-avor – Shabbat Inspiration
by Rabbi Emerita Yocheved Mintz, Congregation P’nai Tikvah, September 1, 2017
Of the many words of wisdom my mother bequeathed me, the phrase that I kept repeating to myself this week was “Gam zeh ya-avor”/This, too, shall pass. The devastating trauma that is being lived out In Texas; the disturbing upsurge in Anti-Semitism, White Supremacy and Neo Nazi activities; the divisive rhetoric adding fuel to the fire; and the personal challenges that too many of our own families are facing—Oy, what a way to send out the year 5777! And I remind myself: Gam zeh ya-avor; this, too, shall pass.
These words are surely words of consolation and hope, but they can also have other connotations.
When we are little, each scrape, insult, or disappointment seems to doom us to eternity, but as we learn that night turns into day and that the tender kiss of a parent makes a boo-boo feel better, we begin to understand that gam zeh ya’avor. This, too, shall pass.
As adults we are told: “Carpe Diem”/Seize the day. The elation we feel at the time of a simcha, the joy of a new birth, a wedding, or a celebration…we so want to hold on to that emotion. Instinctively we store them away in our memories, because deep, down we know that Gam Zeh Ya’avor…this too shall pass.
We are now in the month of ELUL, the month preceding Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the Asseret Y’mei T’shuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, also known as Yamim HaNoraim, the Days of Awe. It is a month during which the shofar is traditionally blown every day, except Shabbat, to wake us up, alert us to the work we need to do in preparation for the holy days. More important than the logistical preparations that the High Holiday committee, the choir, and the clergy are making for the chagim, however, are the preparations that each of us is supposed to be making as we approach the holiest days of the year. Yes, we have to make our reservations for services (do it soon), but we also have to do our spiritual preparations. Our tradition reminds us that the word ELUL is also an acronym for Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li/I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, alluding to a sense that the Monarch is in the meadow, G-d is close by, approachable and accessible. We have merely to open our hearts to one another, to apologize for hurts we may have inflicted, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to make amends, if possible, to sincerely promise not to do the misdeeds again, and then to follow through…and keep that promise. That’s the ticket that enables us to make T’shuvah, to return to G-d, to meet in the meadow and set the stage for the year to come. But gam zeh ya’avor; time is fleeting, these opportunities can fly by.
Life is not a dress rehearsal; this is real…and, wow, how often we feel so totally unprepared for it. As the sages taught us and the soap operas remind us, our years are as sand in the hourglass. The days, months, decades, and years of our lives move swiftly through changing scenes and shifting acts. And at each moment we are reminded gam zeh ya’avor.
But, we are human, and when we are in the midst of joy, we long for happily ever after; and when we are in the midst of sadness, we fear that it will consume us forever. Our Jewish tradition understands this and teaches us to grapple with this fear, to believe in tomorrow; to believe that we have the power to make tomorrow different from today; to believe in people (we witnessed the power of people working together as thousands of volunteers came forth to help with the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts).
Gam zeh yaavor doesn’t mean that we should simply let the moment pass. It will, of course, but it is up to us to determine if it will be meaningful. Sometimes we feel helpless, but even the smallest effort can be of help. Did we make our voices heard after Charlottesville? Are we reaching out to those suffering in Texas through our prayers and much-needed donations? Our Jewish Nevada Federation leadership has reported that nearly every Jewish organization and synagogue in Houston and nearby communities have been damaged by the recent unrelenting storms. Jewish Nevada has opened a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that is sending 100% of our contributions to the Houston Jewish community. Contributions can be made through the JewishNevada.org website…and we have flyers with that information in the foyer. There is also a sign-up sheet for those who might be willing to open their homes to temporarily house refugees of the storm and to those who might avail themselves to volunteer to go down to the area and help with the rebuilding effort, should either of these efforts be desired by the Houston community.
Chevreh, let us make the moments of the days of Elul count and let us awaken and respond to the call of the Shofar. Let us do our personal spiritual preparation for the Yamim haNoraim. And let us not stand idly by to either those of us in the CPT community who are in need of our prayers and support as they are in grief, or dealing with personal or family health challenges, or to those in the greater community who are dealing with the vicissitudes of life and the repercussions of climate change. In the midst of the deluge, we can only imagine how paralyzing the fear was. We know that the waters are now subsiding. We know that the death toll, sadly, continues to rise. We also know that the recovery, rebuilding of homes and lives will be long and challenging, but we know that, with the aid of open hearts, rolled-up shirtsleeves, and generous strangers, Gam Zeh Yaavor, this too shall pass. Ken y’hi ratzon….may it be G-d’s will.