Several times during the school year our principal would get on the loudspeaker and announced “Operation Ajax” — which meant that we would line up at the door and proceed into the hallway where there were no windows — sitting against the walls with our heads between our knees — our arms protecting our necks against potential flying glass.
As it happened, my school was never actually hit by a tornado.
A few years ago our kids came home fro school telling us about their new drill: “Code Red”. First, the school principal announces through the intercom “Code Red” — at which point all the students hide under their desks, turn off the lights and lock the classroom door. You see, “Code Red” means that there is an intruder in the school: an intruder brandishing a weapon.
Then a little while after that we learned about “Code Blue”. “Code Blue” is handled pretty much a like a fire drill — all the students quickly and quietly line up and file carefully out of the building.
“Code Blue” is a bomb drill.
We are talking about suburban America, here.
But for many now, there is Red Alert — bombs falling from the sky.
There are things certainly worse than tornados.
There have been, over time, many people who choose to give up life’s pleasures because they believe it will bring them closer to the Divine — closer to God.
In ancient times, when people took on the vows of the Nazirite, they left their hair uncut, they did not eat meat — or grapes. They wore sackcloth, did not drink wine and vowed abstinence from other passions and pleasures. For the Nazirites, as they yearned to be closer to God, perhaps they thought that the worse thing that would happen was that they would overindulge in life’s pleasures….pleasures, I would like to add here — that were given by God.
But interestingly, perhaps in their austerity they separated themselves from their communities — and also from God. There are indeed scholars who believe that because these Nazirites denied themselves the pleasures given by the Divine: taste of good food, the fragrance of flowers — that they themselves were sinners.
Even the philosopher Maimonides is known to have said “at the end of our lives, we shall be called to account for every permitted pleasure we failed to enjoy”.
Of course there is a limit to how many brownies we could (and should) eat — and a person can only drink so much wine without worrying everyone around them…but pleasures in life — our families and friends and children — are those which we cannot enjoy enough.
These days we have many reminders of how we need to cherish the taste of late-summer grapes a square of chocolate and the hand of a friend.
Code Red. Code Blue. Red Alert.
We don’t have to be Nazirites to appreciate the most basic gift of everyday life. This year, this month and today — we are all counting our blessings more. Although in my part of the world things are not quite as dangerous for us as the time of our parents and grandparents pogroms, for many people things are just as dangerous — and more.
Things are very uncertain.
We have become entitled in our expectation of safety. We have been complacent.
Too much so.
We have forgotten the smell of danger. Our ancestors, though, lived it and learned to survive through it.
We know in our bones what it is to be afraid and what it is to hope. We know what an uncertain future feels like. We, in our souls’ memory, remember what it feels like to pray for survival.
In Joann Rose Leonard’s book “The Soup Has Many Eyes”, the author recounts her family’s flight from the pogroms. She describes what I am (and perhaps we all are) feeling:
“Braced, we tread across boundaries that separate us from those we love; pull us far from the place we call home. And too often, we do it in the dark, not knowing if we will arrive safely, not knowing if we will arrive at all; unable to predict how a flick of impulse in our brain…may shape the rest of our life and the lives of our children’s children…”
There will always be danger and darkness in our lives but there will also always be light. They mix together.
The sweetest blessings in my life I now see better because of the darkness:
- The moment immediately preceding the Sabbath candle lighting — the moment filled with the expectation of light.
- The very brief moments in my life when the children were small — when the days seemed so long but the years sped by too, too fast.
- The very, very brief moments when I have folded the laundry and deluded myself into thinking that ‘today there will be no lonely socks’.
I am so grateful, personally, to have been given one more day of safety. I am appreciative that for one more hour my family is safe — before our world gets turned on its ear once again.
I am blessed with another chance. One more chance. One more day.
I am challenging you to enjoy your life.
And not only because, apparently , enjoying your life is a way to honor the Divine — apart from us and inside all of us.
We are grateful for the creation of a world where nothing is lacking — not a sun or a moon or land or water or beauty. We are grateful for all of this to delight our human hearts.
For we need these things to stave off the darkness.
I am blessed with love, light, family, health, color and a warm coat.
Because the worst thing that could happen is that I could live in a place that has a long winter.
The worst thing that could happen is that I would, we would, not see all our blessings and that we would not see them in each other.
As our ancestors helped each other through their pogroms, we pray that all those in danger be released from the darkness.
In this same dark we reach for each others’ outstretched hands — these hands which we will continue to hold until the light begins to rise again.
Until Code Red — or Code Anything….is over.
May we all see the light in the wine, in the morning, in each other’s eyes and souls — and have perspective.