On the last night of Chanukah I ventured out into the cold to snap a few photos. As I gazed up at our window, I was struck by the contrast between the snowy landscape in which I stood and the warmth and light coming from within. What a striking metaphor! Yet, that is the metaphor offered by Chanukah and the lights we kindle. When all is darkness and cold outside, the light of the spirit within each of us offers respite from the dark coldness that too often appears to envelop us. It only takes one light to illuminate that darkness, one light to illuminate the path we must follow or the place in which we dwell. But once that light is kindled, another light, and then another and another begins to ignite. May your home, your heart, your spirit be aglow with the light of Chanukah throughout the coming year. I am most grateful for light and warmth Chanukah candles emit on a cold winter night.
It is that time of year again: Rosh Hoshannah and the beginning of the Jewish year. In addition to the usual celebrations that seem ubiquitous of all people as they celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another, the Jewish people have entered into a time of reflection, a time to consider past actions, a time of repentance as we seek to clear our slates and start the new year fresh. Having just celebrated Rosh Hoshannah, we are now in the Days of Awe which culminates with Yom Kippur, a day of repentance and celebration. The Days of Awe are sweet even though this is a time of deep soul-searching. Our prayers are for forgiveness of the wrongs we have committed as well as forgiving those who have wronged us. Before we can approach Hashem/G-d on Yom Kippur and ask forgiveness, we must first approach those whom we have wronged and ask forgiveness. If one comes to us seeking forgiveness, we must be aware of the courage it takes to right the wrong what ever it may be, and forgive if we possibly can. We recognize our humanness and seek to be better and do better during the coming year. Many of us take this time to consider and address one issue or part of our lives that we would like to improve. We consider what steps to take, what books to read that will shed light on the issue, what wise person to learn with who can help us in our daily efforts to lead a more holy life. Why apples and honey? Because our prayers and our hopes are for a sweet year. From now through Simchas Torah, the day we celebrate receiving the Torah (falls approximately three weeks after Rosh Hoshannah), we will feast on sweet delicacies, especially apples and honey, in hopes that we and the world will experience a sweet year. For this reason, I am grateful for apples and honey!
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I know that I expressed gratitude for Sabbath Peace recently, and this is very similar. But this Shabbat the peace, the rest, took on special significance. Last Monday evening my dad suffered a life-threatening abdominal aneurysm. The further the week progressed, the more we realized the gravity of the situation. By Thursday it had sunk in for all of us that Dad was fighting for his life. We Futch’s have raised denial to an absolute art form, not necessarily a bad thing; it’s what helps us keep our heads up when life seems insurmountable. We laugh a lot. We are a cheerful lot through thick and thin. But by Thursday we were all worn, especially Mom who never left Dad’s side, and David and Sandy, my brother and sister-in-law, who stayed with Mom and Dad, made phone calls, talked with doctors, managed to squeeze in work, and more. The rest of us were in far-away states and could only sit by our phones, pray fervently for our father and friend, and wait for news. We had become fearful for Dad’s life, and with good reason. Doctors were honest in their assessments as they gently presented our options. Throughout the week flurried phone calls back and forth began early in the mornings and continued late into the nights each and every day. Normalcy ceased and crisis management governed our days. But Thursday evening the situation began to improve, and Friday dawned brighter as Dad’s color began to return to normal,the swelling from various procedures and blood leaking into his abdomen began to subside, and everyone~doctors included~regained hope for Dad’s recovery. By Friday we sighed a sigh of relief. . .somewhat. Friday is the day I prepare for the Sabbath, and this Friday was no different. Phone calls interrupted but the preparations continued through to completion. Minutes before candle-lighting which ushers in the Sabbath, I made my last calls home to my brother and then my mother. Dad had a few “hiccups” through the day but for the most part it was a good day. He is definitely improving. But for this daughter who would be out of touch with the family for the next 25 hours, there remained some angst over Dad’s condition. Blessedly, earlier in the day I received a welcome phone call from one of my best friends ever, and her voice was music to my ears. At the sound of her voice my eyes began to tear as I felt the release of pent-up emotion and my resolve begin to dissolve. Rochel Leah reminded me of the power of prayer and the many people around the world who are praying for Dad. She also reminded me of the strong connection we have with G-d as we light the Shabbat candles ushering in a time of holy rest. Rochel Leah urged me on reminding me that whatever the outcome, all will be good. She would be lighting candles, too, and when she lit, she would have Dad in mind. Shabbat is a time each week when we step away from the cares of the world, a time to smile and rejoice for the world that we have been given to live in with all of its hills and valleys. When I light the candles I lay down my cares and worries and enter into another realm. This Shabbat I visualized laying down my cares for Dad, switched to an attitude of gratitude, thanking Hashem for the man who is my Dad. This Shabbat we enjoyed good food, shared a meal with friends we hadn’t seen in years but who attended our wedding, walked in the sunlight on a glorious Saturday afternoon, and slept soundly during an afternoon nap. We went to the synagogue to daven/pray prayers of thanks and learn a little Torah. Life on this Shabbat was restful, joyful, revitalizing. When Shabbat drew to a close, my cares were where I had left them, and I picked them back up as I headed into a new week. But now there was energy and hopefulness that before was lagging. I picked up the phone to call home and get an update, but now I felt rested. As I write this post, I am acutely aware of many things for which I am thankful even in this post. But to sum it up, I am humbled and grateful for the rest that Shabbat provides for those of us who observe its laws. I am also grateful for a good report from home as I begin a new week.
Last night the phone rang late ~ too late. I sensed something was wrong. I didn’t answer it right away, rather let the caller leave a message. After all, I was probably being melodramatic. About ten minutes later however, I couldn’t let it rest and anxiously checked the phone messages. David, my brother, with urgency in his voice told me to call back immediately, the it was imperative that I return the call. I found out that Dad had an abdominal aneurism rupture. He was rushed to the hospital and was in surgery as David and I spoke. David’s parting words were “this does not look good.” I called the kids then I began praying. Prayer is a huge part of my life, not just in emergencies, but every day. When things like this happen however, there is an added fervency, one prays with intense kavannah. Around 1:30am I got the call that Dad had done well in surgery and had responded excellently to the skilled surgeons and other medical personnel as they repaired five ruptures. He is now in ICU at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, KY, and the prognosis looks good. But last night we didn’t know what the outcome would be. Today I find myself paying attention more, to life, to people, to voices, to family. Everyday we walk this earth is a gift. My dad has been given the gift of more days and we’ve been given the gift of more time with Dad. I love you Dad. I am beyond extremely grateful that Dad pulled through emergency surgery to repair a ruptured abdominal aneurism.
Today I am going from the lofty to the lowly, from the holy to the mundane. Yet, as I’ve aged (and matured, I hope) I discover that the lowly, insignificant things in life, those things we overlook or take for granted, are worthy of gratitude, too. In fact, the lowly stuff is the mortar that holds up the lofty stuff. As I write this post, Shabbat is almost upon us. I busily prepare the house and the food before lighting the Shabbat candles because once Shabbat arrives I will not cook or clean or engage in any activity that involves creating something new or different. Shabbat is the day we rest from the busyness that fills our lives with creative endeavors. At the same time however, the rabbis tell us we are to partake of hot meals and extend hospitality to friend and stranger alike. The conversation and hospitality piece is enjoyable and doable, but how does one offer a hot meal when forbidden to ignite a flame or flip a switch on the Sabbath? Ahhh, that is where our ingenuity comes in. Throughout history we read of the many creative ways Jewish home-makers concocted to keep food hot on Shabbat. Today we use crockpots. I have several because keeping kosher requires separate cookware for meat and milk. Besides cleaning the apartment, Fridays are also spent preparing Saturdays meals. The wonderful thing about crock pots is that I can prepare a dish in the pot, put it on to cook before Shabbat, then turn the temperature to low and leave all Shabbat so that we have a hot dish to serve with our meals. Voila! There you have it. 🙂 I am grateful for crockpots!
****Just so you know, this post was written before Shabbat and scheduled to post on Shabbat. I’m experimenting to see if this is something I will want to continue doing. We’ll see.
We often take “freedom of religion” for granted. But as I drive through cities and towns, country roads and major highways, I am struck at the variety of religions I see represented in this country. Most often we see rural churches or city cathedrals, each attesting to the fact that there is a congregation of Christian worshipers in that community. Less often we see synagogues or Jewish learning centers where study of religious writings and teachings take place. Mosques are becoming more visible, too, indicating that Islam is present here. A couple of days ago my husband and I were driving through a rural area of VA when we spotted a beautiful Buddhist pagoda. Buddhists in rural VA. Imagine that! I am Jewish. The photograph depicts some of my Jewish books. The fact that I am able to practice my beliefs even while people of differing religions or no religion at all practice their’s is something for which I am extremely thankful.