In our home, we take the custom of eating challah with honey during this time of year very seriously. If having honey is symbolic to have a sweet new year, we aren’t taking any chances of abrogating that symbolism.
In our family, the challenge is to douse the challah with the perfect balance of honey – the most that the challah can tolerate before the honey starts dripping down the sides, all over the plate, and onto the tablecloth. To do so requires squeezing out the honey and then quickly biting into the challah. If the honey pourer is not agile and quick enough, he’s liable to end up with a sticky mess.
Recently, my mother gave our children a book called Tootle as a gift. It was a book I grew up with but hadn’t seen in many years.
The story is about a young locomotive named Tootle who dreams of one day pulling the big express. He and the other locomotives are taught many rules and regulations in school. But the most important rule emphasized is that they must never ever leave the tracks.
The problem is that Tootle enjoys the fields and the sunshine, and he veers off the tracks. The story relates how the engineer got Tootles to realize that if he aspires to be a famous locomotive one day, he must learn to always stay on the tracks.
The concept of t’shuvah entails that we get ourselves back on track. During the vagaries of our daily routines, we sometimes stray off track. Often, it’s the result of chasing the proverbial butterflies into the meadow, which causes us to veer off the straight path. Doing t’shuvah requires us to evaluate how true we have been to ourselves. To “get back on track,” we must be willing to let go of the negative habits we have formed.
We are blessed to live in a land of plenty. Pleasures and enjoyment abound, and there is little to stop us from indulging. This is not only true about sinful and forbidden pleasures, but even regarding enjoyments that are acceptable within reason. For example, there is no dearth of eateries of all different types, each constantly updating their menus with tantalizing new dishes
Our challenge is to learn how to have our cake, and hold ourselves back from eating it, too. We have to discipline ourselves to stop trying to grab as much honey as we can, by enjoying with a proper balance.
David HaMelech states in T’hilim (147:13): “For He has strengthened the bolts of your gates; He has blessed your children in your midst.”
The Torah imposes upon us many gates/limitations; but within those gates, one can enjoy life and be elevated by its blessings. When one learns how to live comfortably and happily within those confines, his progeny will feel blessed and will thrive as well.
The greatest life is lived by someone who remains on track and is constantly progressing towards his ultimate destination. The great day of Yom Kippur helps us recognize in which areas of life we have indulged and must reverse course to get back on track.
So, turn your train around, stand clear of the closing doors, and proceed as planned.
Next stop: the intense joy of Sukkos and Simchas Torah!
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as a rebbe and the Guidance Counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.stamtorah.info.