The world stands on three things: Torah (Study), Avodah (ritual) and Gimilut Chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) (Pirke Avot )
In his book, 40 things You can Do to Save the Jewish People, Joel Lurie Grishaver, suggests creating a coded calendar which highlights all of the opportunities to do Tzedakah in the year. He lists each holiday with its specific traditional Tzedakah project. [Collecting pocket change on Shabbat, Mattanot La-ev’yonim on Purim, sharing our Chametz in Ma’ot Hittim at Passover, Tzedakah bets during dreidel games at Chanukah.]
This calendar creates quite a tapestry of opportunities to do acts of justice and righteousness. In our highly scheduled and efficient world, this type of calendar might help us tune into these moments in a different way. It would help us merge our kavanah, intention to do these acts, with a kevah, a concrete action, in rhythm with the Jewish calendar and community.
As I thought about this calendar in my mind’s eye I wondered, What if we did the same for acts of memory? We could code a calendar with the days of memory, personal and communal. On this calendar, we would have a listing of our family Yahrzeits and the times when we stop with our community to do the prayers of Yizkor for family. We can also mark the days like Yom HaShoah and Tisha b’Av when we fulfill communal acts of memory, reaching beyond our family to honor those who represent all of us or have no one to remember them.
What Joel Grishaver captures with his calendar is that it is not just a day of value, it is a reminder of action. On this calendar of memory, we would not just list the day, who we were remembering and what prayers we might say. We would also add actions that resonate with the memory of our loved ones or that honor the losses of our community. That is an important value in Jewish experience. We don’t think a thought or say a prayer. We add action, so that the movement of our body is in rhythm with the workings of our minds and the flow of our soul. This is why we tie acts of study, ritual or kindness (the three things the world stands on according to the Wisdom of Our Sages) to our times of memory. The sages taught that we should sit, studying our highest values with a community of friends and family; or visit the cemetery and place a stone of memory. What other actions could we put on our calendar? Making and sharing a grandmother’s recipe; washing a car for a friend like an uncle; going on a walk to honor a sister or brother who loved nature. The possibilities are endless. Writing it out on a calendar would help us organize and commit ourselves to these actions.
As we look at a fresh New Year stretching before us, I suggest the idea of a calendar of memory, with the intent to inspire us to map out actions to go with expressions of our heart and mind.
May we all find our way into a new year of blessing, in which our prayers and actions will be for good.
Rabbi Michael Birnholz