Your Summer “Homework Assignment”

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, June 29, 2022

Dear Solelniks,

It’s summer. The weather is hot, the flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and it’s time to enjoy the longer daylight and soak up some of that vitamin D. Yes, school is out, but we all continue to grow and learn. So here is your summer “homework assignment”: Take a long walk, read a good book, make a new friend, and do a mitzvah. This “assignment” is a gift that has been passed down to many rabbis, shared by Rabbi Barry H. Greene z”l, in the name of his mentor, Rabbi Victor Reichert z”l.

Now I know that in this digital age, you might be tempted to translate that into “binge watch Netflix, procrastinate on Instagram, and text a friend”, but doing those things won’t have the same effect on you, your brain, or our world. Instead, I encourage you to indulge the inspirational wisdom of the rabbis and embrace this “old school” teaching with enthusiasm.

Take a long walk without purpose. Our rabbis teach that when we walk on Shabbat especially, one should walk differently, not in the way that we usually are walking quickly, rushing to get to the office or to a store. Slow your pace, let your mind wander, and notice your surroundings, or get lost in your own thoughts. You are likely to see something beautiful if you’re not in a hurry. Take the time to stop and observe the bees collecting pollen from a flower, notice the new shoots on the tree branches, see the birds taking off in flight. Look and listen to the sounds, feel the breeze, and say a blessing giving thanks for your body and mind’s ability to carry you in the world.

Read a good book. What’s on your reading list? If you’re like me, you often have many books waiting to be read. Make time to read – books will open your mind to new thoughts, inspire you, make you laugh or cry or both. Re-read an old favorite, pick up that novel or beach read you’ve been meaning to get to, or the challenging book you haven’t had the headspace to begin. And if it’s not a good book give yourself the freedom to put it down and pick up another book instead. One of my favorite phrases is “So many books, so little time.” Over the summer I also like to read something to prepare myself spiritually for the High Holy Days. Sit in a favorite chair or in a special place outside and nourish your soul. Read aloud to a child, a loved one, or friends. Books take us on great adventures without ever leaving our chairs. Best of all, you can share them with a friend.

Make a new friend. Kids seem to do this easily, on the playground, at school, at camp. As we get older making new friends seems to be more difficult. School and camp provides natural environments for meeting new friends. For adults it’s not so simple. And, during the pandemic we have become much more isolated and separated. Come to Shabbat services and talk with someone new. Reconnect with old friends that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Call that person you’ve been meaning to connect with. Our rabbis teach that after an extended separation, the joy of catching up with an old friend necessitates a blessing. If you haven’t seen your friend for 30 days, the sheheheyanu blessing is appropriate: “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, Shehechiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu lazman hazeh. We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this day of joy.” If it has been a year or more, the blessing that is said thanks God for reviving the dead—that is, as if they were reborn. (Talmud Berachot 58b). Be open to the opportunity to make a new friend, and to renew and deepen a friendship that you already have.

Do A Mitzvah. “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena. It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work. Not up to you to finish it. But neither are you free to desist from it.” (Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot 2:21) We are living through tumultuous times. As Jews we are called upon to do what we can to make the world a better place through our partnership with the Holy One. What kind of tikkun olam (world repair) can we do? It starts with small steps, acts of gemilut chasadim (loving kindness). What are mitzvot (good deeds, commandments, acts of connection) you and your friends or family can do together? How can you show kindness to others? How can you make your small corner of the world a better place? Start with what you can do and it will grow. You can give food or clothing to those in need (K’vod HehAni – Respecting those in Need), take care of the earth by recycling and composting (Baal Taschit – Do not destroy needlessly), Making soup or a meal for someone who is ill (Bikkur Cholim– Visiting the Sick), Send a card or make a phone call to an older friend or relative (Hiddur Pnei Zaken – Honouring the Elderly). Choose one small mitzvah that you can take on this summer. The world will be a better place because of you and you will be a better you for having taken on a mitzvah.

Enjoy your summer!


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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