We Keep Going On

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, September 30, 2021

(excerpted from Rabbi Pollack’s Rosh Hashanah Morning Sermon)

On this Rosh Hashanah we began with a blessing of thanksgiving, the Shehecheyanu, – shehecheyanu vkiy’manu v’higianu lazman hazeh. We recite these words to mark the most special and sacred moments of our lives. They can be big moments or small ones – a special occasion in our lives, eating the new fruits of the season, reuniting with a friend for the first time after thirty days, and of course at the start of every major holiday on the Jewish calendar. We pause in recognition of the extra special moments, the kodesh moments, the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The first word, Shehecheyanu means we are thankful for You giving us life; the second word V’kiy’manu means for sustaining us, or literally what makes us continue to exist, and the third verb and the rest of the phrase, v’higianu lazman hazeh means for enabling us to reach this particular moment. We are alive, we are here, and we have made it this far, we keep going on. We utter this prayer, these words of blessing, out of our thankfulness for what keeps us going on.

This year and a half especially, we are even more acutely aware of the meaning of these words – We are alive, we are here, we keep going on. In reciting them, we choose to take this moment to be grateful for our/my survival, sustenance, and arrival to this particular moment – and find what’s good in it – acutely aware that we can’t always take for granted what will come in the next moment. So we smile with gratitude in this moment for arriving, here, now.
Over the summer, I invited you to respond to a series of questions in my blog for the Shammas about how our world and your personal world has changed, and what has helped you “Keep going on”. What are the moments of beauty that you have experienced? What have you learned? How have you changed? What or who has been a light for you/sustained you in this pandemic time? Thank you to those who shared your thoughts with me…….

This past year has given many of us a much deeper, conscious, understanding of what it means to recite these words of Shehecheyanu. Human life is layered with a complexity of experiences and feelings and it’s okay to acknowledge that this time has also brought us tears and grief and anxiety and frustration. We are wired for survival to notice what is amiss. That’s good for our physical survival but at the same time it means we are vulnerable to focusing on what keeps us from our being here and okay. For that reason, how much the more so is it especially important to mark and bless that which “keeps us going on” in this time of great uncertainty and ambiguous loss.

These beautiful responses to what “keeps you going on”, teach us that tuning in consciously to what restores us to a feeling of aliveness and connects us to us to what is right in the world, can keep us from being overwhelmed with consciousness of what is or can (and does) go wrong… and that is in itself life sustaining. The Shehecheyanu really is a blessing thanking God for allowing us to survive another year, which is not something we are meant to take for granted.

At the beginning of this new year of 5782, we give thanks for all that keeps us going on. We are grateful to have reached this day – Hayom – and to welcome this new year. Although all that we hoped hasn’t quite arrived, we are so grateful for all that we still have, for life, for sustenance, and for reaching this day.

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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