spoiler alert: stop reading if you’ll be hanging with GW Hillel this Yom Kippur – remarks below!
Did you have a snow globe when you were growing up?
Ruth Calderon, a prominent thinker in Israel, reminded me this summer of the magic of such an invention. Channel your inner three year old for a moment. You pick up the globe and shake it vigorously, watching before you the energy you’ve generated and the slow magic that comes when the snow settles. This, my friends – THIS. IS. WONDER.
Wonder evolves and comes in many forms as we grow. In thinking back on my college years, I lived as a sophomore at NYU on Water Street – the Vern of NYU, if you will. This was a dark time in my life, the fall of 2001, coinciding with the tragic events a few blocks away at the World Trade Center. Each morning, all of us New Yorkers were lost in a fog, but the world kept turning and we still had to ride the bus to class.
There was a boy with green shoes that I pinned my adoration on. John Mayer played on my Walkman and every so often, that boy with the green shoes got on the same bus that I did. WOW – call it bashert, call it G/d, I stood in awe – how lucky was I, in this traumatized world, to get on the elevator at the exact time to make the exact bus as this boy who made my heart flutter. Wonder, in full effect.
When I get in the car and my new favorite song, ‘Wish I Knew You’ by The Revivalists is playing. When my four year old asks how one reads and I can help her sound out the simplest of words in her library book. When my one year old counts to 10 or says ‘Hey Babe’. When all my other friends complain about jobs they hate, and I can only talk about a job of meaning that I love. This is Wonder.
What, might you ask, do the green shoes and the snow globe and my car radio have to do with Yom Kippur?
For some strange reason, Yom Kippur has been interpreted by many as a sad day – woe is us, without our food and caffeine, stuck in synagogue all day long. But this day is actually known to be one of the happiest on our calendar, a day of AWE – or wonder, if you will. This day is a forced, but blessed, shaking of our own snow globe; we get to put aside the work and the phones and the Netflix queue for a few key moments of peace, snowy peace. What is the goodness inside of my own Jewish snow globe – what are the values, who are the people, what is the blessed work I need to do to be the best me I can be? And then we need to shake and gaze inside – WOW, lucky me, what a life, what a slate that I have the capacity to wipe clean and re-write! What a democracy I live in, with the ability to vote and make my voice heard! What a privilege to work hard through college, to get an education and put it to good use!
This shaking is invaluable… but then comes tomorrow. The slow float downwards, the gaze that happens after the big bold event. In the Torah on Yom Kippur, we read Acharei – translated as after. Aaron’s sons have flown too close to the sun, so thirsty to get close to G/d that they died in the pursuit. They shook their snow globes too hard. But the parsha and it’s commentary, as evidenced in the name, aren’t about the shake – it’s about the after, the gaze that we pursue when the big moment has passed.
Gazing everyday though presents its own challenges. Just as we brush our teeth or check our Facebook feed before we go to bed, so too must we find our own personal wonder routines. A New York Times article once highlighted the dinner table challenge of Jonathan Safran Foer. Did his children ‘pass the wonder line’ that day, pausing long enough to be amazed at the world? My friend Dina buys lottery tickets, an excuse to dream with her husband. Millions might be nice, but she’s more interested in the dollar she spends that facilitates great conversation about what’s truly important to them. Dinner table chats and lottery ticket purchases – wonder, turned into routine.
I’m here, humbly, on this joyful Yom Kippur day, to remind you of your snow globe. I sincerely hope this day will inspire a really great shake, a vigorous experience of wonder. But what I hope for more is for what happens after – for the routine you can create, the dinner table conversation or the lottery ticket purchase, that will keep you intentional and deliberate on the wonder around you, the blessings in your life that often go unnoticed when our lives are distracted by the TV news and text messages. Wonder leads to gratitude, to compassion, to mitzvot.
May your fast be easy and your snow globes be wondrous.