I was pleased to see my erev Rosh Hashana caller’s name via the Caller ID on my cell, though I was somewhat embarrassed at the circumstances. It was my son’s shver (father-in-law) — the Brooklyn one mechutan (in-law) — calling as is customary to share erev yomtov greetings. Pleased, because he is such a fine person, and I so enjoy speaking to him. Embarrassed for two reasons: One, because it was 9:45 a.m. and I was still in shul, hurriedly unwinding my tefillin to join a group doing hataras nedarim (nullification of vows). And two, because, as usual, he’d gotten to me before I could get to him, as he always did.
The call, when I returned it, didn’t disappoint, and I couldn’t resist sharing with Shlomo my mixed feelings about the timing of his call. “Your call reminds me,” I said, “that every year, during [the month of] Elul as Rosh Hashana approaches, I am certain that this is the year I am going to have a calm, orderly erev Rosh Hashana, take care of getting everything set as it should be — and here I am, once again, at an embarrassingly late minyan because I was in the office at 3 AM, trying to get ahead of the next two days’ business that I won’t be around to do.”
I could hear him shaking his head across the ether. “Rav Brevda z”l said ‘Elul is dead, and it was killed in America,” said Shlomo. As usual, Rav Brevda had nailed it. It could be that once, perhaps even in our lifetimes, investing an appreciable amount of time over the course of four weeks in spiritual and psychological preparation for the Days of Awe was something a working stiff could relate to, and maybe even not that long ago. Maybe even in America. But looking around at my own life, it certainly hasn’t been a realistic ambition in a long time. And it seems reasonable to assume I haven’t been the only one who has felt that way since the dawning of the age of iPhones, yeshiva dinners, bar mitzvah-vort-wedding obligations and … the manifold other blessings, mixed and otherwise, of our contemporary existence.
“I’d be happy to even think of it,” I responded. “Maybe this call will give us a leg up on making some use of the aseres yimei teshuvah [Ten Days of Repentance]. It would be an a meaningful accomplishment for us these day if we would be sufficiently mindful that we could plan … to plan!”
He agreed, and told me of how is uncle had told him about his father — Shlomo’s grandfather — would, during the aseres yimei teshuvah, get up early — well before it was time for services — just so he could get to shul at 5 a.m., ahead of the sun’s ascent into the sky, and take time to sit in the still of dawn and… reflect. To hear himself think ahead of Yom Kippur.
And that was then. It sounded like a good idea. I can’t imagine pulling it off myself. But it sounds like a plan.
Planning isn’t everything, of course. I planned to write this post and then call my other son’s shver — the California one. But Yitzchok called me first, too. And talking to him was every bit as invigorating and elevating as talking to Shlomo. What good guys! What a brocha!
I don’t mind losing the Cell Phone Sweepstakes every erev yom tov. It’s not a race, who calls first. We’re all three of us fond of each other and no one’s keeping score of who calls first. There’s no need to because it’s never me, and that’s just fine. And if these moments with my fellow fathers-in-law are the only moments of reflection, besides finishing this post, I experience before I am lost in the pre-yomtov cyclone of preparatory activity, logistics and climate control duties, who’s to say I haven’t had at least a little bit of Elul by virtue of their warm thoughtfulness?
Can I plan a more ambitious plan than this for the next ten days? It won’t be easy. Outlook, that omniscient mussar sefer (self-improvement text) that is my constant companion, tells me that the next week and a half include filing deadlines; an address at a conference; two depositions in the Midwest and the preparation for them; and 2,409 “Unread” emails — oops, no; 2,410. They won’t be read before Yom Kippur, but my entry in the Book of Life will all the same.
On the other hand, starting tonight I have two days — no, three this year! — off the vicious grid. Three days to plan some kind of little spiritual plan, even if I can’t memorialize it digitally or dictate it to an assistant. So yes, I can do it, but it will have to be simple.
That’s already a plan, isn’t it?