I woke up a little late on the first morning of Rosh Hashanah last week and heard the TV on out in the family room. I went to join my wife and daughter, figuring I’d find a Disney Channel or Nickelodeon show in progress. Instead, I was surprised to find them riveted by the early moments of “The Wizard Of Oz”.
I smiled and said, too loudly, “Good Morning, Happy New Year!”
What I was thinking was, “Isn’t ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ for Christmas or Easter or something like that?!?”
My eagle-eyed wife saw the wheels turning behind my still sleepy eyes and implored “Please don’t change it, I paid for it on demand!”
That took me by surprise too. “Isn’t it free somewhere on demand, or Netflix or Amazon?” I asked, hearing myself being a nudge and making "note to self" that Rosh Hashanah was the right time to commit to being less of a nudge this year.
Now, I wasn't exactly expecting to walk in and find my wife and daughter interpreting Torah passages while dutifully shining up a shofar. First off, my wife is Unitarian. And the 7-year-old, she comes by her Judaism mostly through my own perennial, atheism-influenced observance of the “big” Jewish holidays.
And none of are bigger and holier than Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, marking the beginning and end of the “Ten Days Of Awe” each year. It’s a time to reflect on how you've lived life over the past year, repent for your sins (misdeeds, in my book), pray for forgiveness, make amends, do good deeds, and pledge to be and do better in the new year.
If all goes according to scripture, so to speak, then once the Yom Kippur fasting is over and the feasting has begun, you come out spiritually cleansed, refreshed, ready to be “inscribed and sealed for a good year” into the “Book Of Life” by…well, you know who.
While I don't believe in you know who or any other literal Supreme Being, or in a literal “Book Of Life”, I do embrace the introspection and aspiration that are at the root of all the religious symbolism during these High Holy Days. And so I seek my own ways to honor, observe and share the meaning and value of them with my daughter.
Which gets me me back to “The Wizard Of Oz”.
I stood in front of the TV on Rosh Hashanah morning, watching Dorothy and Toto, and watching my wife and daughter watching too, with such rapt attention. I smiled and headed off to brush my teeth and shave, musing that there might in fact be an unintentional holiday “observance” underway here after all.
Maybe my brain was still stuck halfway in dreamland, but I started thinking about the messages that were such mainstays of this most iconic of films, and before I could click my heels together three times I was connecting those messages to the Ten Days Of Awe and seeing them through a newly magical metaphorical prism.
“If I only had the brains not to have said or done some of the dumb or selfish or mean things I said and did…” Or, “If I only had the heart to be more compassionate, empathetic and accepting of others, to be more giving…” Or, “If I only had the courage to speak up and out more about what’s going wrong in our town, city, state and country, more willing to take a stand and fight for what’s right…”
Bit of a stretch? Maybe.
But when my daughter and I took our traditional Rosh Hashanah walk to the lake down the road, and in our own version of the traditional Tashlich ceremony, stood on the dock reciting and then “casting off” our misdeeds of the past year as we tossed bread crumbs to the fish and turtles down below…well, I couldn’t help thinking about the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. And couldn't help sharing my thoughts on the ongoing search for more brains, heart and courage, with my daughter.
She seemed to get it…kind of. Did a fine job of humoring me, anyway. As we strolled slowly back to the house, I found myself whistling. My daughter tapped my arm and said, "That is sooo familiar!". When I told her it was “If I Only Had A Brain”, she laughed and said “Dad, you are sooo weird...”
Well, sometimes...sure. But nothing weird about wishing that by the time Yom Kippur comes and goes for another year, all the observant (in whatever way) Jews out there have successfully followed their own Yellow Brick Roads and found a little more brains, heart and courage to put to good use in the year ahead.
And what the heck, here’s to wishing the same for all the non-observant Jews out there too, and for all the non-Jews as well. So what if it takes until Lent, Ramadan, Buddhist enlightenment, or whatever the case may be. Never a bad time for a little spiritual enlightenment.
After all, the great lesson learned from Oz (and High Holy Days in any religion?) may well be that whatever better part of ourselves we’re looking for when we look for “The Wizard” behind the curtain, is already waiting to be found right behind those eyes looking back at us in the mirror every morning.