As we conclude Yom Kippur, a holiday of intense introspection, and look toward Sukkot, a holiday that calls us outside into the world and outside of ourselves, I find myself thinking about what my life will be like a year from now or perhaps 10 years from now. What surprises are in store? What challenges await? I know there is only one future and in many ways I cannot impact it. However, I’m a doer and therefore can’t help but contemplate what I can be doing right now to influence the outcome of my life story.
I feel like I’m in a children’s mystery chapter book. The ending has been decided but there are lots of things that lead up to the outcome. As a kid I loved to read Encyclopedia Brown, Nate the Great, and Nancy Drew, and I fondly remember the Choose Your Own Adventure mysteries where you make a choice and continue to read from a page that directs you down a path based on that choice. As an adult I love knowing we have choices – choices for how we respond to all kinds of situations. Choices are like little mysteries. If I do this, what will happen? And if that happens, what should my next choice be? Who will be impacted by my choice? Who will benefit? And, how do we respond to the joys and sorrows of our life? When we’re hurting, how do we pick ourselves back up? When we’re rejoicing, how do we make sure we cherish those moments?
When I was a kid, my job was to learn. My mom taught me that life is about making good choices and that education is the answer to all problems. To this day, I’m a veracious learner and believe life is a series of choices. Although many of our greatest joys and sorrows will happen despite what choices we make and what actions we take, what we can influence is our actual journey and the impact we have on others during that journey.
One year from now, my daughter will be 8 ½ years old, and she’ll be in 3rd grade. 10 years ago I didn’t realize I would even have a daughter. It seems like just yesterday my husband and I were racing to Indiana to be part of her birth experience. Now as I watch her grow I realize I cannot lead her toward or protect her from her own fate, and I cannot control the ultimate outcome of her story. What I can do is influence her journey.
I can show her how repentance, prayer, and charity inspire and shape our journey. I can teach her the power of Teshuvah—the importance of not just saying you’re sorry but really changing behavior that is hurtful to yourself and others. And, about valuing, healing, and strengthening our relationships, and understanding that as we do our relationships will better sustain us. I can encourage Tefillah—prayer—and help her recognize the power that prayer has to help us realize life’s blessings. I can remind her that she is a blessing each and every day just because she is who she is, not because of anything she does or doesn’t do. And, I can model Tzedakah – righteousness – and show her how generosity of spirit feeds our soul and makes the world a better place.
Each of us is on a journey and it’s not always easy to practice Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah. We sometimes forget. We sometimes lose our way. In fact, the power of our High Holy Day season is that we are reminded that losing our way is part of the journey and that we can always return.
So, how do we guarantee a rich and vibrant life journey – one that leads to an outcome we can be proud of? The truth is there are no guarantees in life. Despite our best efforts, there are things we cannot control. So, if we don’t control what happens in our lives, what difference do Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah really make?
We must stop and realize life really is like a chapter book; how boring and meaningless a book would be with only a beginning and end and no chapters in between. Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah make up the chapters of our Book of Life . They make all the difference in the world.