I bought a used crockpot some 15 years ago at a flea market for $4.00. It still works but it’s small, and truthfully I wanted something shiny and new.
So I bought one for $26.95 at the grocery store today. I didn’t want to invest time and energy in shopping around, and my needs are pretty simple. It’s almost exactly the same as my old one – no bells and whistles, just on and off, high and low. I actually think it’s the exact same model as my old one, just bigger and shinier.
My toaster needs to be replaced too; it’s started falling down on the job, but they didn’t have one at my grocery store. And it still works. Kind of.
As far as I’m concerned, if it doesn’t also walk the dog there’s no reason to invest in advanced options and upgrades.
Clearly, I am a marketer’s nightmare. Even if your appliance is still working, someone is going to try to talk you into the next generation toaster or crockpot.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the human body. We keep trying, but it has built-in obsolescence, and sooner or later it’s going to give out.
We’ve figured out ways to keep them running relatively well, for more years than before, and perhaps for more years than originally intended, Methuselah notwithstanding.
But we all know that good health, or even merely acceptable health, isn’t enough. If that’s all we’ve got, then our lives are basically empty. We crave more. We crave other people, good food shared together, good company, and joy – or at least enough joyful moments to make it all worthwhile.
The Declaration of Independence assures us that it is our right to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Hebrew word that is the closest approximation to happiness is ashrei, and it is the first word in the book of Psalms. But the word simcha, joy, appears ten times more often.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’l called joy “one of the fundamental themes of Deuteronomy.”
He wrote, “Happiness is something you pursue. But joy is not. It discovers you. It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to God. It comes from a different realm than happiness. It is a social emotion. It is the exhilaration we feel when we merge with others. It is the redemption of solitude.”
In short, we don’t “happy” one another’s company, we enjoy it.
Shared joy plays a key role in this week’s Torah portion, called Ki Tavo. After describing the ceremony of bringing first fruits to the Temple, the Torah declares: “Then you will rejoice in all the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the stranger in your midst.” (Deut. 26:11). Even strangers are included in our joyous moments.
As Rabbi Sacks said, joy is the redemption of solitude. And we have all been subjected to far too much solitude over the past 18 months.
That needs to change. But the new Covid variants are making it unsafe to return to our normal lives. We have to take care of our bodies, which we older folks know are fragile and susceptible to illness, and which younger people are beginning to discover far too soon.
As we move into the Days of Awe, the High Holidays, Judaism encourages each of us to transcend our bodies and look inside, to “re” – reconsider, renew, repent, and recreate. We look both at the year that is past, and ahead to the year to come.
We ask ourselves, what did I do, where did I go, who did I meet on the way during this year?
Especially who. The people with whom we managed to interact this past year. Sometimes in person, often over the phone, many times on the computer. Even in isolation, we managed to have times of sheer joy in each other’s company.
This morning the cashier was worried for me. She realized I was buying a pretty basic crockpot and she didn’t want me to be disappointed. She went to great lengths to tell me exactly how to return it, even if I’d already used it. It was sweet and caring and yes, it was joyful.
I am fortunately to be a part of Kol HaNeshama, a congregation that refers to itself as a family. Over the past two days I’ve spoken with more than a dozen members of our congregation, most of whom are dealing with illness and pain. But despite that, I also heard joy in many of their voices. Joy in simply getting a phone call from someone. Joy in knowing that KH has their back. Joy is being part of something that is bigger than themselves.
Lots of people are synagogue shopping at this time of year, trying to find the best fit for themselves. Some are just restless, like I was with my crockpot, which is perfectly acceptable but imperfect. My congregation is surrounded by larger synagogues that are having in-person services, while ours will be completely online. Some of our people might choose to go elsewhere. That’s OK. I’m sticking with mine. Imperfect for sure, but perfectly suited to the needs of many.
When we look at the difficult year that has passed, and forward to next year with some trepidation, may we remember to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and feel pride in our strength and resilience.
And when we look forward to the new year may it be with renewed conviction to share joy with the people we love, and with the community that supports us.