I have always felt Rosh Hashana to be somewhat confusing. Solemn, yet celebratory. Stirring, yet scary. Inspiring, but rather intimidating.
But there is one facet of this holy day that is as clear as the clarion call of the shofar itself - it is a day of opportunity for closeness to God. Some find it through introspection, others through meditation. For some, prayer is the medium of choice, while for others it is the shofar blasts that pierce through the curtains of the mundane. But for many of us, the closeness never really comes and the disappointment is palpable.
The key to getting the most out of any experience is preparation before the event. You cannot expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy. It just doesn’t work that way.
You can't expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy.
With that in mind, this year I decided to do something practical to get “in the mood.” Mere reflection and contemplation were just not cutting it.
Being a native of the asphalt jungle called “Manhattan,” I always felt that I was perhaps too easily impressed by anything that grew and was any shade of green. Show me an impressive patch of artificial turf and you just might catch me extolling some kind of sacred blessing. I needed to raise the bar.
So I made plans to visit the picturesque Pocono Mountains in Eastern Pennsylvania. I had been there before and always appreciated the incredible scenery and Heavenly wonders. Perhaps that would do the trick. Maybe by witnessing God's wonders of nature, that special closeness would be within reach.
It was thankfully a glorious Tuesday when my wife and I embarked on our VTBI (Voyage to be Inspired), otherwise known as Bushkill Falls. The Chamber of Commerce of this fine State has seen it fit to describe this attraction as The Niagara of Pennsylvania. Hmm…
We parked, searched for the camera that my wife (not me... never me) forgot, purchased two bottles of water for about $150, and prepared to get “connected.”
Our first task was choosing which trail to traverse. They ranged from Blue (the shortest walk), to Red (the longest). We chose yellow and began. This not being a travelogue, I'll spare you the unnecessary details. Bushkill actually contains eight different “falls.” Most of them are small, so we concentrated on the main one. It is actually quite pretty. You see the falls from a distance early on the trail, and you walk down a series of winding stairs and bridges, getting closer and closer to the falls.
Temperature in the area of the gorge is quite cool and the whooshing sound of the rushing water adds a soothing element to the serene ambiance.
“Isn't this…er… nice?” I said to Temmy.
“I guess,” she said.
When we reached the bottom and were at the closest possible distance to the falling water, I thought I detected a faint spray in the air. Maid of the Mist it wasn’t.
“Well...” I commented.
There was no reply.
We lingered there about as long as we could and began our ascent toward the eventual exit. I didn't need to be genius to figure out what Temmy was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. After all, this was a VTBI.
“This is a very nice place, but THE NIAGARA OF PENNSYLVANIA??”
I wasn't sure if the ad exec who created that line should be fired or promoted, but I sure did want to meet him. Scenic? Yes. Calming? I guess. But inspiring? Not exactly.
We climbed our way back toward the top of the falls and spoke about various topics. Needless to say, the words Rosh Hashana were not mentioned.
The trail ends at the top of the Falls. I had already written off the experience as something between disappointing and okay. The exit sign with the customary arrow beckoned to my left. But my eye caught something. It was small. It was subtle. But it was profound.
We were standing above the Falls. We were able to see where the water originated from. The water was just moving slowly through the woodland. It was, I guess, what you call a creek. The stones caused the water to disperse into scores of different channels, all moving ever so slowly towards the edge of the cliff. Without purpose; without direction. But then, the channels all kind of narrowed at that edge. And when the waters hit the edge they simultaneously came cascading over the natural rock formations in a rushing torrent.
You want to create a waterfall, but you have to start small.
We stood there… fixated. Seeing just the Falls, we weren’t particularly impressed. After all, we were expecting a Niagara-like experience. But watching the source and seeing how this Falls came to be was quite another story.
We sat down on a bench and peered out at our little creek. We said nothing. It was so simple and peaceful and unassuming. And then we spoke about Rosh Hashana… finally.
People always talk about making big changes – New Year resolutions.
“I want to lose 50 pounds.”
“I want to finish the entire Talmud.”
“I’m going to spend 90 minutes of quality time with my daughter every night.”
It doesn’t work. It never does. And if it does, it peters out. You have no choice. You must start small. You want to create a waterfall…maybe a Niagara, or even a Bushkill. It doesn’t just happen.
You need a creek and a few stones. The water has to crawl and meander and slowly reach its destination. And then…when the time is right…it can crash and splash and whoosh and become something.
We almost missed it, but we had our Voyage to be Inspired.
And I hope you have too.
Take it slow and have a wonderful, inspiring New Year.