This week Sid and I returned home to Maine after an extended time at my sister’s house in Westford, MA. It is a blessing beyond words to be there!! Yet we had been there since before Rosh Hashanah (!) for a variety of reasons that were challenging, mostly car issues, but the result was a true blessing. We were able to spend so much time with family, less travel to be at Ruach each week, and time to be off of my usual routines. It almost felt like a mini vacation.
That last result was a blessing, and I won’t say also a curse, but it did cause me to fall behind in some ways so that mounting tasks awaited me upon my return home. Those things that you can “put off”, when accumulated over a month, can really be daunting to face. During my time away from my usual routines I made many excuses that all made sense at the time – that email can wait, that presentation is a month away, I’ve got time, I’ll jog tomorrow, we have enough clean laundry for now, I’ll call her later – all to prioritize my time with my sister, my highest priority. In this head game application, kidding myself (as to the procrastination) was a good thing, for my love of her was more important than the tasks that could be done later.
As part of such a long time away from home, unfortunately, last week turned out to be the best time to visit our Beacon family whom we hadn’t seen in person since May. Of course, seeing them is also top of the list! So Sid and I gladly set out in our Mitzvah Mobile (formerly Pugabego) even though we had actually planned to go home to Maine last week. So the next thought was to return to Maine last Wednesday after that visit. After all it had been over a month! The “problem” with that plan was that Andrew Hanson’s upcoming bar mitzvah was scheduled for that Saturday . . .
I often try to live life in the both/and – being in two places at once by splitting my time in each, but this time that would not be possible. I told myself so many reasons it would be okay not to go to Ruach that day. We really wanted to go but were so tired after all the travel and more days away from home seemed like a bad idea. After all, we could attend on Zoom. There will be so many people there, we won’t be missed. What’s another couple people? We just had to get back home to Maine. The weather had turned cold. We needed to check on the house. So many tasks are waiting on my desk. We’ve missed so many Irish band rehearsals and we have a gig coming up.
We were tired. We just wanted to be home.
Yet as we headed back from Beacon my heart felt the tug to stay a little longer at my sister’s and go to the bar mitzvah. And oh, our Abba did not disappoint! (Not to mention spending another wonderful Shabbat dinner with our Westford family).
I can honestly say I have never experienced such a range of emotions as I did that morning. It was not just a bar mitzvah, for they all are amazing. It was the coming together of so many threads at work in our lives during these unprecedented times. We felt the joy of the day, the poignant moments in the family speeches, our kvelling about Andrew’s Hebrew reading, the beauty in the service and worship music.
Perhaps the most moving part was Andrew sharing about his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, who as a boy couldn’t have his bar mitzvah due to the war. Despite such adversity and family trauma, despite all odds, Andrew’s grandfather came to faith in Yeshua within the darkness of Nazi occupation. This grandfather years later met and married Andrew’s grandmother, the Aryan German daughter of a weapons specialist for the German army. As Andrew’s grandmother would say, “God must have a sense of humor!”
Even beyond the miraculous nature of the story, it is a lesson for these times. As I looked around our synagogue at the diversity, of Jews and Christians sitting together united in these moments, Gabbai Stacele’s leading “Let There Be Peace On Earth” during the Torah dressing time said it all. Love thy neighbor, a message of the utmost importance for these days.
Besides trying to be two places at once, we also live in the both/and of cognitive dissonance, times when we are challenged to feel joy when sorrow surrounds us. How can I rejoice at a bar mitzvah when so many are dying in the Middle East? Or how do I process horrific thoughts of the Holocaust alongside a young teen’s beautiful first faith in Yeshua?
Being physically there to be part of this amazing experience of the both/and, experiencing joy and sorrow simultaneously, was a time I am so grateful to not have missed. God’s Presence reigned. He filled the sanctuary and His Love poured into the fellowship hall with a banquet fit for a king. Our King was there.
We are capable of thinking up a defense for any of our actions. That is normal and being human. Prioritizing my time with my sister and Beacon family was by far worth any repercussions in Maine. Thankfully, I made the right choices then even if the consequences required hours of extra travel and catch up.
Yet because we are human, my weakness almost made me miss one of the most important experiences HaShem had laid at our feet in which to partake, that glorious bar mitzvah. Hopefully I have learned from this experience for when the next such dilemma arises, and will choose love.
HaShem showed me again the importance of loving others which silenced the self-serving self talk. For when we guide our decisions prioritizing love of our fellow brothers and sisters, the result will always lead us to the most important directive we have been given by Yeshua to follow . . .
Love. Love. Love.