A few months ago I had the opportunity to have coffee with one of our religious school parents. I’d sent out a general invitation after the high holidays and this mom accepted. So we’re talking, getting to know one another better—she had been more active at one point when the kids were younger, a Shabbat regular, but had drifted away. In the course of our talking, she mentioned that when she goes on hikes, or runs, jogging with friends through the great outdoors, taking in God’s world, that is when she felt closer to God and to her Judaism. “It’s too bad” she said, “that we couldn’t make Shabbat like that.”
“Well,” I replied, “why not?”
Her face lit up when I said that. Why couldn’t we make a Shabbat morning experience that was outdoors, that was a hike, that was communal and individual at the same time?
She began to pepper me with questions about regulars, about mobility, publicity, all kinds of details. How would we make this work?
At the time, I hadn’t the slightest idea. But I know a good idea when I hear one: if this mom felt this way, odds are others do too. And while there’s a lot of detail to work out, none of it is so onerous as to say ‘no’. In that moment, the right answer was yes.
Now I don’t share this to toot my only horn. Well, maybe just a little. I share this because I think we often moments of inspiration the way this mom did. As one preacher put it, you share your vision with others and “They just looked at you skeptically and said something along the lines of , “Now that’s an interesting idea.” Which you rightly interpreted to mean, “That’ll never happen.”” That’s the response we expect.
Frequently, we short-circuit our good ideas before we allow them to come to fruition, because of the details. We sweat the small stuff. We get inspired by some possibility—a new friendship, an idea at work—and the minute Shel Silverstein’s ‘whatifs’ enter our head, or we share that inspiration with others who then get to play the role of ‘whatif’, and we get discouraged.
Sometimes, we need to push the details aside. Yes, there will be a time to work all of the nitty-gritty out, and yes, we may find the original idea evolving—the Shabbat hike will probably have stationary elements at the beginning and end so less mobile people can join us, for example—but sometimes the answer needs to be yes! Sometimes yes with trepidation (“I don’t know how to do that!”) and sometimes yes with enthusiasm (“this sounds amazing”) but yes nonetheless.
This week Israel stands at the foot of Sinai, prepared to receive Torah—or rather, prepared for something. They only know they will finally get to meet their God. And when they’re told that they will be God’s people, they swear, “All that God has said we will do!” Later, Israel says something different. They say, “na’aseh v’nishmah”—we will do and we will hear.
Note the order: We will do, THEN we will hear. Before comprehension, there is doing. Israel doesn’t ask about the nitty-gritty of each mitzvah. They don’t ask the how, or the why, or in what fashion. They say YES. So it is with us. Sometimes, we need to set aside the whatifs and simply say yes—affirm the sacredness and the integrity of the vision knowing somehow we’ll make the details work. As one preacher wrote, “How is never a problem for God.” Or to quote one management book: the answer to How is Yes.
So ask yourselves how you can find ways to say yes more, and worry about the details later. Who are you saying no to when you should be saying yes? Friends, family, colleagues, yourself? As yourself how you can say, “na’aseh v’nishmah” I will do, then I will understand. Because, as I shared with the Federation’s leadership development group on Sunday, Sinai isn’t a one-time event; Sinai is all the time. Every moment of every day has the potential to be Sinai, to be the moment to say “Na’aseh v’nishmah”: I am inspired and I will commit. I will answer the call. I say yes. Entrances to holiness are everywhere, our siddur reminds us, and the possibility of ascent is all the time-- If only we say yes.