By Joseph Walker
My friend, Rabbi Benny, is no Tevye, the beleaguered Jewish father from “Fiddler on the Roof.” He wouldn’t know the first thing about being beleaguered. He is more like Perchik, Tevye’s passionately radical son-in-law. Only there’s nothing radical about Rabbi Benny. He is decidedly, pointedly, intensely, unapologetically orthodox.
When Tevye sings about “Tradition,” he’s thinking about Rabbi Benny.
So I was excited to watch my friend at work last Wednesday, as he conducted Rosh Hashanah services for his local congregation. I enjoyed his strong, powerful voice as it filled the room with words of life and love from the Hebrew Scriptures. I was inspired by his commanding presence, and the dynamic energy of his faith. And I enjoyed his sense of humor, especially as he taught what I will forever refer to as the Doctrine of Naughty Dogs.
According to Jewish law, he said, if a dog escapes its master and does damage to someone else’s property once, it’s not a big deal and the punishment is light. If it escapes a second time, it’s a slightly bigger deal, but still not a huge problem, and not a huge punishment for the offense. But if it does it a third time, then it is labeled a “routine” destroyer, and the consequences are far more severe for both the dog and its master.
The rabbi’s point had to do with the timing of Rosh Hashanah this year. The two-day celebration, often referred to as the Jewish New Year but more properly called the head of the New Year, fell this year on Thursday and Friday. It is of course followed immediately by Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
“So you begin this particular new year with three consecutive holy days,” Rabbi Benny said. “That means it is a year of ‘routine’ holiness, a year that is routine in bounty, routine in goodness, and routine in peace.”
I don’t know about you, but I sort of like that notion. There are routines I’d like to integrate into my life, and routines I’d like to get rid of. Take daily exercise, for example. For as long as I can remember — and some days, to be honest, that doesn’t extend back much further than breakfast, which, come to think of it, I can’t remember whether or not I ate — I’ve been trying to make exercise a regular part of my daily routine. And there have been periods of time in my life when I’ve been fairly successful at it. But eventually, the routine fades and I settle back into a lifestyle that features time for “West Wing” reruns, Diet Dr Pepper and bean dip, but no time for walking.
But if I start now, at the head of 5774 (that’s the number ascribed to this new Jewish year), a year that starts with three consecutive holy days, and exercise consistently for three consecutive days, maybe I can establish for myself a new routine.
And while I’m at it, maybe I can cut back a little on the Diet Dr Pepper and bean dip for those three consecutive days, and make consuming less caffeine and … you know … whatever it is that is in that bean dip that makes it so darn addictive … make that part of my new routine, too. In my opinion, taking better care of myself is one way I could make 5774 — or the last few months of 2013, if you prefer — holy.
At least, for me.
I know. I’m not Jewish, so this isn’t really my New Year. But I figure that if Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett can celebrate happy hour any time of day because “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” I can resolve to integrate positive new routines in my life by taking advantage of someone else’s New Year. The way I see it, it’s New Year’s Day somewhere. And there’s nothing like a new year — especially one so routinely holy — to motivate change.
Just ask Rabbi Benny. Mention the naughty dogs.
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