Betsy and the kids are going to roll their eyes tonight. Why? Because at every Shabbat dinner for as long as we have been a family, after we light candles and before we sing Kiddush, I have asked each person at the table to talk briefly about the best thing that happened to him or her during the week that has passed. You can imagine how embarrassing this was when the kids were teenagers and had friends over for Shabbat. They still find it a little embarrassing to have a dad who gets all “lifey” as our daughter Hannah put it years ago. To be honest, Betsy’s often right in there with them. Every Rabbi knows that spousal eye roll that says; “Enough with the rabbi shtick already. Let’s eat.” Everyone’s tired, the food is getting cold, and after all the talking that is about to commence, we still have to do the long Kiddush and Motzi. Guess what? I don’t care. No matter what, I insist we take the time to think about the best of what we have been through this week, not just the worst.
Thinking about the worst is easy. Maybe that’s because coverage about disease, civil unrest, corruption and scandal attracts more viewers and sells more commercials. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing that after centuries of oppression we are more comfortable with bad news than good. Consider the joke about the Jewish pessimist and the Jewish optimist. The Jewish pessimist says, “Things couldn’t be worse.” To which the Jewish optimist replies, “Of course they could!” Jew or non-Jew, it doesn’t take much, especially now, for us to dwell on the dark side of life.
On the other hand, thinking about the best, most beautiful parts of life takes work. Awe, joy, gratitude, happiness even, are the result of a deliberate, disciplined, daily commitment; a forcing of oneself to seek and embrace something hopeful and good no matter how small and no matter how many others might roll their eyes. This week we began reading Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah. In it, God says: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” To be a Jew is to make a conscious, daily choice to seek and celebrate the good.
Tonight, as I look around the table, I might mention how beautiful I thought Betsy looked the other day when she was at her desk upstairs, painting a picture of a yellow bowl and a purple onion on a blue plate as the sunlight streamed through the window behind her; thirty five years and she still takes my breath away. Or maybe it will be the drive home with Aaron from Joshua Tree yesterday, playing music, not saying much of anything at all; just two dudes on the road… Of course, there was that moment when Hannah dropped by on Tuesday; walking in the front door as I was walking out for a funeral. “I love you so much Daddy,” she said, kissing me on the cheek.
What was it for you? Amidst the terrible news and uncertainty, what light, what joy, what tiny, precious moment from this past week did you cherish? What quiet miracle did you embrace? Tonight, tell the people you love about it. Tonight, choose life. Because life…is beautiful.
Love and Shabbat shalom,