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The Last Moments

The Last Moments

Will you consider this year a great success or failure? A lot depends on the next few weeks.


Our family went to the Michigan State Fair. It all started out picture perfect. Our two older daughters went on the Ferris wheel with my wife, while I stayed with the baby carriage and attempted to obliterate a red star with an automatic BB machine gun. We watched a logging show and acrobats, we went on the merry-go-round, we drank an impossibly huge drum of orange soda, and we watched our kids drive "motorcycles" in circles until everyone was dizzy.

The best part was the petting zoo. I crouched down with my daughters and watched the delight on their faces. I explained to them how Daddy's sweaters were made of the sheep's hair, and then we "touched the sheep's sweater." The bonding I felt with my children at that moment was overwhelming, and I turned to my wife and said, "This is what life is all about!"

But after baking in the sun for a good few hours, the kids started getting cranky. There seemed to be a never ending stream of, "Can we buy some soda? Can we do this again?" Our wonderful day was quickly falling apart and I knew we had to head to the car. However, with about $20 worth of tickets left, we decided to enjoy a few more rides.

My oldest daughter and I boarded a small airplane which went up and down, and up and down. I didn't let it bother me when she said, "Take your hand off of me," even though she had asked me to put my arm around her to quell her fears. I kept my cool when she told me to "stop making those noises," even though my whoops were only an attempt to heighten the excitement of an otherwise repetitive and boring ride. But when she said to me, "You know I really didn't want you to come on this ride with me!" I found my nerves being seriously tested. We had put so much effort into giving her a good time, and I felt like I was being slapped in the face. But the day was almost over and I so much wanted it to end on a high.

Somehow it is always at the very end of something great that an obstacle appears, threatening to erase any gains made until that point. At that moment we either sink or swim. Those last few moments can determine whether the entire experience will be solidified forever in everyone's memory as a great experience or as another failure.


As a nation, we are now in that last moment. Elul, the current Hebrew month, is the tail end of the year, the last few days before Rosh Hashana, when we close out one spiritual year and begin the next. It may have been a great year for some of us, a strained and difficult one for others, an unfulfilling year for others. But this is the month in which we can sink or swim.


By putting in an extra effort to increase our spiritual involvement during this month, we can close out this year as a success.


Somehow, just as our spiritual antenna begin to buzz with excitement of the approaching High Holidays, a wrench gets thrown in our plans to race down the homestretch. We have the new school year for our children, the beginning of a new season at work, and all the catching up to do at work after our summer vacations. It seems as if something out there wants us to miss this incredible opportunity to tie the year together.

By marshalling our forces and putting in an extra effort to increase our spiritual involvement during this month, we can close out this year as a success. One way to do that is to make this month a mini-Rosh Hashana by incorporating its three major themes: Kingship, Remembrance, and Shofrot.

Kingship speaks of the idea that God runs the world and all that transpires in it. One way we can make this real is to write down every day one time you saw God acting on your behalf. It can be making an unnaturally long string of green lights when you were late for work. It can be how that person you were just thinking about calling popped into your office. Your baby might have tripped and fallen, but luckily a couch pillow was right there to cushion the fall. If we look for God's interactions with this world we will find them everywhere.

Remembrances talks about how God remembers all of our actions and cares about everything we do. Unfortunately, we are often the ones who don't care about what we do. During the month of Elul we can try to spend five minutes each night contemplating the past day. What mistakes did we make and how can we avoid them? What things did we do that were just right and we need to ensure that we will continue doing them? When we do this exercise, we start realizing just how important and valuable our actions are.

Shofrot deals with the blowing of the shofar and the unique relationship it signifies between God and the Jewish people. Throughout the month of Elul, the shofar is blown in the synagogue every morning. Spend a short time each day thinking about your relationship with God and about the changes we want to make before Rosh Hashana.

Let's seize the moment, and soar.


September 13, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) Rachelli, November 16, 2010 9:48 AM

Practical and Realistic

Thanks for the excellent article. The point regarding the end of an event being the moment that is most difficult and also most potent really struck me. Perhaps this is also what occurs at bedtime every day with small children - we can sink or swim - end the day on a sweet note or end it with shouting. Thanks also for responding to anonymous; it is nice to see follow up to articles.

(11) Daniel, November 16, 2010 9:48 AM

A good reminder that G-d is in charge

Rabbi, you spoke of how Kingship teaches us that G-d runs the world and all that transpires in it. That is important in this last month -- but the greater teaching will be that we all take this away and reflect upon it the entire year.

(10) R' Leiby Burnham, November 16, 2010 9:47 AM

Thanks, Anonymous

Dear Anonymous, Thanks for your insight! While I did not look at that point, I'm really glad you brought it up, because you are 100% right! The $20 worth of tickets is petty compared to the value of a good family experience, and it not souring, which is priceless. Lesson well taken! Have a Shana Tova Leiby

(9) Anonymous, November 16, 2010 9:47 AM

Yetzer Hara

This article spoke to me, although perhaps differently than the author intended. The author and his family had a wonderful time at the fair, but then the children tired to the point of no return. Even though he knew they should head to the car at that point, his response was, "However, with about $20 worth of tickets left, we decided to enjoy a few more rides." How many times have we gone to a banquet that has an open buffet, and we gorge ourselves to the point that the food doesn't even taste good anymore and we feel ill, because after all, we paid a lot for this banquet so we might as well get our money's worth? There are many other similar examples. So often our yetzer hora gets in the way of allowing us to enjoy things in the way they were intended. Although the author would have "lost" the $20 worth of tickets for the fair rides had he left early, it appears to have been a much more expensive loss in family quality time by using up those same tickets. Let's daven that HaShem should give us the strength to gain control over our yetzer hara, and have the wisdom to know what's really important.

(8) esther, August 16, 2010 11:21 PM


thanks so much! i really needed to read this!!

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