Rabbi Malka Drucker: A Different Four Questions

My father wasn’t a religious man. I don’t know what he believed, only what he behaved. Along with suggesting that I not take everything so seriously, he advised, “What happens, honey, isn’t important; it’s how you deal with it. When I had a heart attack at 54, it forced me to retire, and I finally got to enjoy my family and my life.” Judaism teaches us to deal, and we have plenty to deal with this High Holidays.

Torah isn’t all milk and cookies. Beginning with fratricide in the second generation, its narrative shows how our ancestors faced the challenges of plague, war, and oppression. No one would have expected our tradition to survive, yet here we are, making history far longer than the great dynasties of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. We walked humbly in our despair, not knowing what would be and hoping for the best. Maybe we’re still here as an example to the world: We never gave up!

Although I haven’t begun writing the great American novel or much of anything in the last six months, I’m doing all right, I hope you are too. Our tradition shows us how to stay patient, grateful, and hopeful. Here is an example of such guidance: The Talmud tells us that the time will come when each of us will be face to face with the One who made us, and there will be four questions to answer. The month of Elul gives us 30 days of grace in which to be ready for the final exam:

One, did you deal fairly in business? This is an especially important time to behave with generosity and trustworthiness. Give tzedakah abundantly. There are so many in need now and you may have surplus money by staying home.

Two, did you set aside time to study each day? For those fortunate enough to be home, this is a remarkable time to brush up your Hebrew or whatever. Living in a pandemic teaches each of us too. Reflecting on its lessons and going forward strengthens us.

Three, did you have children? The question’s deeper meaning may be whether you have connection to the next generation; it goes beyond biological issue. Generations link past and future. If you aim for joy, are grateful, empathic, forgiving, and accepting, you will have fulfilled your life’s purpose: to set an example for the young. Claim every child as yours.

Finally, did you keep hope for the future? No matter what—plague, fires, and all the collective and personal challenges—we are called to behave with kindness and hope. It’s too easy to succumb to grief, anger, and dread. The dark night will end. We will keep hope for a wiser future that the present is teaching us.

Disasters bring out the best and worst in people. If you want to pass the final exam, be ready with the right answers that an unprecedented time reveals. How you deal with 2020 matters.

Rabbi Malka Drucker is rabbi emerita of Ha Makom: The Place for Passionate and Progressive Judaism and Temple Har Shalom, in Santa Fe and Idyllwild; she likes to be at heavenly altitudes. She is the author of 22 books, including Tom Seaver: Portrait of a Pitcher and Embracing Wisdom: Soaring in the Second Half of Life. She is Solomon’s, Lesley’s, Sasha’s, and Olive’s safte.