(This article originally appeared in The Jewish Press.)
I’ve always loved roller coasters, although this may not be obvious to my friends and others in my company who see me alight from my vehicle barely able to speak for having lost my voice due to my screaming through the entire ride. Despite the constant shrieking, I find the nervous anticipation of the slow climbs and the hair-raising terror of the speeding descents absolutely exhilarating.
As I sit in shul on Yom Tov, something about my davening experience is reminiscent of being on a roller coaster, and makes me feel like seat belts would be a very welcome addition to the seats. I feel like the mood and atmosphere in shul are totally dependent on the ba’al tefilah who, with decisiveness and precision, leads the kehilah through the windy terrain of the Yom Tov davening. He navigates our communal vehicle through happy tunes generating much simchah and elation and more serious and somber tunes that generate contemplation and awe.
For one moment during kedushah, we are singing a slow traditional tune, and then moments later it’s a joyful tune that generates such fervor that the only thing that keeps people from dancing in the aisles is our obligation to stand with our feet together. Shortly after, we are jolted back to solemnity with U’nesaneh Tokef, and the imagery of Hashem scrutinizing us one at a time like a shepherd inspecting his flock in order to decide our fate is clearly etched before our eyes. We are not given much time for our shaking to subside before immediately being guided through a hairpin turn leading to an effusive rendition of Ein Kitzvah.
These sharp recalculating turns in the Yom Tov davening are only eclipsed by the transition at the end of Yom Kippur. The entire teshuvah period, beginning with the first shofar blast on Rosh Chodesh Elul, climaxes during Neilah, with the heartfelt recitation of Hashem Hu HaElokim. The kavanah-filled tefilah, increasing in intensity with each repetition, pierces its way through the seven levels of Shamayim, escorting the Shechinah back to its Kisei Hakavod. Tears flow freely as the kehilah davens that its tefilah be accepted l’tova, that the teshuvah we all did be sustained, that this coming year be filled with health, nachas, simchah, parnasah, and all the things that people daven for.
And then, suddenly, after a quick bite, it’s party time at the grand opening of Bein Hazmanim and the pre-Succos frenzy. There is music, levity, and an overall festive feeling in the air. It’s the final jolt as the Yamim Nora’im roller coaster comes in for a landing.
But isn’t that exactly what we experience on this ride we call life? There are times when we are on top of the world, ecstatic in whatever is causing us to reach the peak of happiness at that particular moment. At other times (lo aleinu), we feel as though we are trying to hang on as we careen down towards the depths of the universe when something bad happens in our lives.
Hashem is the One and Only Engineer of our “ride.” All of the twists and turns, the ups and downs, the highs and lows of our lives come from Him, and Him alone. While we may enjoy some parts of the ride more than others, and some parts may be extremely difficult and scary and we would rather do without them, we can rest assured that our individual ride was designed deliberately by Hashem for each of us specifically. Our ride is created by Him to help us grow and reach the heights that we are capable of and arrive at the destination that is meant for us.
Hashem gives us our strengths and weaknesses, our innate talents and flaws. He then puts us on our tailor-made track and opens the gate. The rest is up to us. How we deal with and respond to the twists and turns and sudden shifts and challenges of life is the part we can control. Do we follow Hashem’s manual (otherwise known as the Torah) as we ride? Do we see everything as coming from Him? Do we help others that we meet along the way? Do we stay connected to Hashem as we ride?
The ride of life is not just about fun. It’s serious business with much that we need to accomplish. Let’s hope that while we ride, we make the most out of our trip, have many more ups than downs, and truly revel in the experience.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.