Image: A pink rockrose from my garden.
I am a liberal Jew, specifically a Reform Jew. That means that I give halakhah authority but not absolute, unchanging authority, or as Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan once put it:
The ancient authorities are entitled to a vote but not a veto. – Mordechai Kaplan, Not So Random Thoughts, Reconstructionist Press, 1966.
For an Orthodox observer of Judaism, yamim tovim [holidays] like today are days much like Shabbat. Most melacha [categories of creative work] are forbidden including gardening, farming, harvesting, baking, making clothing, knitting, weaving, tying, untying, and so on. Needless to say, were I an Orthodox observer I would not be tapping away on my laptop today!
My own observance of yom tov evolves as I move through life. I understand the strictures of yom tov as guidelines to separate from “ordinary days” and to offer refreshment, connection, and Torah.
Over the past month, as I worked on my own sins, one big one was bittul Torah – wasting time that could have been spent learning Torah. I had developed a rather nasty TV addiction. I’d turn on the TV in the early evening to watch the news, and then I’d watch garbage TV for hours: cooking shows and reruns, mostly.
It was a hard habit to break, and it was only on Yom Kippur that I finally got the insight that allowed me to break the spell. I was watching the news, getting upset, and then anesthetizing myself with junk TV. It was bad for my body, bad for my soul, and an utter waste of my time.
So since Yom Kippur, I have not watched TV news at 6 pm. I only get news from reliable sources (newspapers) online. And on a day like today, a yom tov, I will leave the news strictly alone. There’s nothing there I need today, nothing that can’t wait at least until the chol hamoed, the days in between. Better yet, maybe I don’t need to hear it at all.
I’m still committed to social justice work. I still write my elected officials, and advocate for good, but I don’t need to follow every scrap of the news. I subscribe to organizations that will let me know when I can be useful: the Religious Action Center and some professional rabbinical lists. I have resigned from my addiction to news and anesthesia and will use the time instead for study and exercise: Torah of the mind, Torah of the body.
I share my teshuvah with you because I know that many of you are in constant distress over the news, too. I invite you to join me in taking a break from it on Shabbat and YomTov. I invite you to notice patterns in your news consumption, and to allow yourself new patterns of news consumption if the old patterns are destructive.
For all of us, I wish energy for good in the New Year of 5776. I wish all of us joy and refreshment as we dwell in our sukkot or sit with our friends. May we rise from the holiday refreshed and renewed, ready to do what needs to be done in this world!