PLAY: The Pursuit of Joy

Earlier this year, I was taken aback when someone very close to me, defying social etiquette in the name of honest friendship, turned to me and said,

“I’m not enjoying your company as much because you don’t seem happy.”

I didn’t want to believe it, but it was true, and troubling.  The recognition launched me into a process of teshuvah, that the Jewish calendar assigns us all at this time of year.  Teshuvah is the spiritual discipline of making a personal inventory, an account of the soul, and taking steps to redress imbalances when and where we can.  How happy am I?  How might I allow more joy in my life and the lives of those around me?

The sages of early American history identified the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right, up there with life and liberty.  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Strikingly, these declarations also align with the thematic structure for the High Holyday assigned to the Jewish calendar by the early rabbinic sages.

Rosh Hashanah, the New Year (for humanity) is considered by the sages to be the day the world as we know it was (and is) conceived, hayom harat olam.  It is a celebration of creation, the origins and renewal of consciousness in the cosmos, a celebration of Life and imagination.  Yom Kippur, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, is designated and designed to liberate us from our self-imposed limitation through communal rituals of forgiveness and atonement. It’s a day set aside to free us from the weights of illusion, poor judgement, isolation and shame.  Freedom of and through speech.  Liberty.

The season culminates on the full moon of the seventh month with seven days of Sukkot and an Eighth Day of Assembly, Shemimi Atzeret.  Living outside in a sukkah, sharing the lulav and etrog, feasting on the fall harvest and dancing and rolling with the Torah – reconnecting with nature, feasting, singing, and dancing!  The pursuit of happiness.  The High Holidays are assigned and designed around the familiar refrain: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

“You’re not happy,” she said.  So this year, in the hope of balancing the ledger a bit better, I’m getting serious about play as I formulate new year’s resolutions.  Are you game?

If you’ re able to join us at CBE for the High Holyday services this year, and we sure hope you do, we’ll create space to reflect about the power of play in the five specific ways.  Below is a grid mapping these five factors for fulfilling fun.  May they inform and inspire us to make this year good and sweet.

L’shanah Tovah um’tukah,

Rabbi Jamie Arnold

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