Sisterhood Blog

Watching Sunsets, Davening Mincha, Celebrating Trees

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

  • Print
  • Share Share

I was talking to my friend Paul the other day about Hawaii. The conversation took place during a rather mundane, everyday stressful event (grocery shopping with kids) so it’s possible that at that particular moment, Hawaii seemed even nicer than usual. Nevertheless, when Paul asked me how my recent trip to Hawaii was, all I could think about was the sunset.

“For many people on Maui, life revolves around the sunset,” I told him. It’s true. When I would make appointments — I was invited by the Jewish Congregation of Maui to consult on education and development — people would ask to time them before sunset so we could talk and watch the sunset at the same time. Once, when I asked for directions near the beach, the response was, “Soon everyone will be coming out to watch the sunset, so I’m sure someone will be able to help you.” Facebook pages of Hawaiians are replete with sunset photos, and conversations often involve comparing tonight’s sunset with those of previous nights.

The Maui sunset, which you can reach from most places on the island, feels like it takes up the entire sky and enters your entire spirit. It just fills you with its vastness, its passion of color and its pure, unfettered beauty. Every night is different, which is probably why people on Maui seem never tire of watching them.

I told Paul that I miss Hawaii, that I want to bring some of Maui back to Israel, that the feeling you have when women in the room all have peonies in their hair and men are all wearing Hawaiian shirts — a feeling in which flowers are not just décor but constant reminders to smile and breathe because we are all tied to the earth in every waking moment. I want to bring that feeling to Israel. I miss calmness. I miss unadulterated joy. I crave the ability to sit back, close my eyes, and believe that, despite all the pain and suffering in the world, right now, in this moment, all is well. In short, I said, I yearn for a life in which time revolves around the sunset.

“For some of us in Israel, life doesrevolve around the sunset”, he replied. “It’s called davening mincha.”

I laughed, even as I realized that, actually, he’s right. Paul is one of the few people I’ve met since returning from Maui who has not told me that he also dreams about spending time in Hawaii. “I’m happy right here,” he said. Wow, I thought. That’s really cool.

But this conversation got me thinking about Judaism, spirituality and sunsets. I think Paul’s observation is really profound. I think that when the rabbis instituted prayer three times a day revolving not around the clock (as if there was one) but around the natural cycles of sunrise, sunset, and stars shining, they were saying something really important. I think they were saying that true prayer, the kind in which you really connect to your Creator and to your purpose on this earth, requires connection to the natural cycles of the earth.

Sometimes, the excessive verbiage of the modern Jewish prayer book, which has accumulated pages upon pages of texts that reflect longings of generations of Jews, — as if Jews are prayer pack-rats who are afraid to throw anything out — obscures rather than assists in spiritual journeys. We are so focused on doing the right thing, on getting it all done, on running by the clock instead of the natural cycles and our own internal spiritual rhythms, that we have lost the art of true spiritual connection.

Rabbi Nachman of Brezlov would pray, “Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone; may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass and all growing things, and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer.” Indeed.

I think about this especially as we approach Tu B’Shvat. Trees are more than just trees. They are our connection to the earth, to our origins, to the Godly spirits within us. That’s why the Torah tells us, “Man is the tree of the field.” The tree is connected to the earth and the sky, as humans should be. We need to be learning from the trees and enjoying our natural spiritual connections to the universe.

After all, the trees never forget to watch the sunset.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sunset, Mincha, Maui, Hawaii, Tu B'Shvat

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.