We are so often told that the way to success is to set our goals and then work to achieve them with single-minded focus. Indeed, for Ramban, the word het, sin — a word that dominates our Yom Kippur prayers — means to miss the target, not to stay straight and fully directed towards what we aim to achieve in our religious lives.
And yet, as this Yom Kippur approaches, I find myself thinking about what gets lost when we hyper-focus. What are we not seeing in our peripheral vision? What precious moments and human connections are we missing out on in life if only one thing matters?
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a group outing. It was a beautiful, cloudless day and when it came time to daven Shacharit, people began discussing which way was east. One person took out his phone to check the compass. Another one used a siddur app, and a third one started trying to figure it out based on the direction of the nearest road. “Guys,” I said. “Pick up your heads. Look at the sun!”
Sometimes, when we are too caught up in our jobs, pursuing our ambitions, or just the day-to-day nonsense and busyness of life, we can miss out on something that is so important and so ever-present.
A few years ago, I was going through a difficult time in my life. I tend to be a problem-solver and the person who takes responsibility and gives support to others, but this time, I wasn’t able to do either. Actually, it was I who needed the help, but I was so consumed with the problem at hand that it didn’t occur to me to ask for it. It was only when I was able to look up and see those around me — my spouse, my family, and a close friend — only when I began to appreciate and accept the support that they were offering, that things began to turn around. My head had just been too buried, my sight too narrow, to allow me to see what and who was there for me all along.
When we don’t look around, we can also miss the small, precious moments. One of the things that has been so special to me in the last few months has been the daily 20-30 minutes of learning I do with my oldest son by phone. When we were just starting, after I had put this scheduled time on my calendar, my colleague asked me, “Rabbi Linzer, does this really happen, or can we schedule a meeting at that time?” She knows me well. But the truth is, I did make it happen. And that has become the highlight of my day. We learn together; we talk together; we laugh together. It nurtures me and sustains me.
My other son — whom I also love spending time with! — perhaps said it best just the other day. He said that he thought the beautiful, meaningful parts of life were not the big moments, but rather, “Exactly this. Sitting right here, on the couch, talking.”
So, my prayer for all of us this Yom Kippur is that even as we remain focused on our pursuits and goals — in our professions, in realizing our ambitions, even in our serving of God and the Jewish people — we make sure never to lose sight of the sun that is all around us to sustain us and give us warmth, in big moments and in small.
G’mar Chatimah Tovah!