> Spirituality > Personal Growth

Japanese or French?

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Leiby Burnham

How do you plan on leaving the month of Tishrei?

There was a period in my life when I was single and working three jobs, while still living in a dorm. If you do the math, it equals more income than bills (a position I sure wish I could get back to!). To help alleviate the problem of extra cash, a group of friends and I would dine weekly at some overpriced Manhattan eatery. Often, we had to make the big decision: Japanese or French?

Japanese was a good choice for the obvious reason -- I love sushi. In my mind, there is no gastronomic experience that can compete in complexity with eating sushi. One's tongue is assaulted by rough, earthy seaweed, fatty rich fish, salty soy sauce, hot wasabi, tangy ginger, and neutralizing rice all at once. If you try to sense every aspect of the sushi at once, it can be overpowering.

But let us not discredit the French! How do you turn down a juicy steak, grilled to perfection, with a side of frites (the fancy term for French Fries), and a good glass of Bordeaux? To confuse things further, one of our favorite French grills had a jazz trio playing softly in the background on Monday nights!

We tended to favor French over Japanese, a decision that had nothing to do with their national policies for I am not a big fan of either, but for a much more simple reason. When we would leave a Japanese restaurant satiated, we'd somehow feel hunger creeping back within half-an-hour. It was almost as if we hadn't eaten anything at all, even though our credit-card bills seemed to indicate otherwise.

But after leaving a good French steakhouse, we'd feel full until well into the next morning.

The entire Jewish people just experienced the most powerful and uplifting month of the year, the month of Tishrei. We heard the shofar on Rosh Hashana, as we proclaimed God's sovereignty in this world. We fasted and prayed on Yom Kippur begging God to forgive us for any misdeeds of the previous year. We shook the Four Species, indicating our desire to serve God with every part of our body (each species represents a different organ in our body). We feasted in the Sukkah, showing our belief in the power of God's protection, and in the value of focusing on the spiritual, not the physical.

How do we ensure that we feel the effects of this holy month throughout the year?

But is our experience going to be Japanese or French? How do we ensure that we feel the effects of this holy month throughout the year?

It's imperative not to wait until the spiritual glow of Tishrei leaves us, and the holidays are nothing more than a pleasant memory of a nice experience. While we still feel the electric charge of the holidays, we need to ask ourselves, "What am I taking with me? What one action do I want to do differently this year?"

There are so many options (in Judaism there's more than just French and Japanese). We can commit ourselves to spending one hour a week learning about Torah and Judaism; we can spend five minutes a day praying in any language we know; we can begin to visit the elderly at a local nursing home for an hour every Shabbat afternoon. We can volunteer to deliver food packages to the local poor; we can find one family in need and befriend them; we can take off one afternoon a week and have lunch with our spouse.

The list goes on and on... The key is to find one meaningful activity that is small, yet one that we do consistently on a daily or weekly basis. Let's take the extra effort to make the Tishrei experience one that continues to satiate us with meaning even as it ebbs away from us.

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