Sunnyside Up

The other day, my 3-year-old son accompanied me to the supermarket. I put a few dozen eggs in the cart and asked him if he likes eggs. What kind are they, he replied, hard boiled or sunny-side up?

It made me realize that this is a question for life. When hardships come, and they always do, we can ask a similar question: Is life hard boiled or is our sunnyside up.

Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us and on this day, G-d will determine everything that will occur in the coming year. Everything that comes from G-d is for the good, sometimes the good is discernible and sometimes it is not. Sometimes, the sunnyside is up and sometimes the sunnyside is down. It appears hard boiled and we need to find the sunnyside.

This is why the high holiday season is bracketed by extremes. The season of divine judgement begins 45 days before Rosh Hashanah on the 15th of Av. From the that day forward, it is appropriate to wish one another Shanah Tova. These good wishes extend all the way to the seventh day of Sukkot, when G-d makes His final ruling on how much rainwater will fall in the coming year.

Historically, the 15th of Av was the day to chop wood for the altar’s pyres because the wood was driest on this day. The 15th is thus called the wood chopping day. The seventh day of Sukkot, when G-d makes His final ruling on water, is called the day for drawing water. These brackets represent the hard boiled and sunnyside up attitudes that we discussed above.

There will be times in the coming year when our trees will be chopped down. Hopes will be dashed, expectations will go unfulfilled, goals will be missed and projects will fail. When all these trees come crashing down, we will likely grow disheartened. These are the hard boiled moments; the tree chopping moments. But we can’t stop there. The trick is to seek and find the water. Now that the eggs have cracked, it is time to make omelets. Now that the trees are down, it is time to find the wellspring. Every challenge is a reason to dig deeper; to discover a new reservoir we never knew we had.

A Long Day
Rosh Hashana is the perennial day. Whenever the word day appears in the Torah without an identifier, we understand it as a reference to Rosh Hashana. For example, the Book of Job speaks of the day when the prosecuting angels came before G-d. According to our sages this was on Rosh Hashana.] Each year before Rosh Hashana we read the Torah verse, “you stand today before G-d.” According to Jewish mystics Moses was referring to Jews across the generations, who stand before G-d in judgement on Rosh Hashana.

It is the only holiday that is observed for two days even in Israel. Yet our sages taught that rather than treating Rosh Hashana as two days, we treat it as one long day.

The halachic reason for this is beyond the scope of this article, but I want to touch on a deeper reason. The first day of Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the first Friday of creation. The second day of Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the first Shabbat of creation. The Midrash teaches that the sun never set on the first Friday night of creation. It was a 36-hour day; from Friday morning till Saturday night. In other words, the two days of the first Rosh Hashana were one long day. Indeed, it is a perennial day.

The message to us on this perennial day is that darkness is never truly dark. The light is always shining; there is always a sunnyside. Sometimes the sunnyside is up and sometimes it is down, but the sunnyside is always there. Of course there is a nighttime in every 24-hour period; that is part of nature. But the first Friday night of creation didn’t grow dark to teach us that light can be found even in the dark. In fact, the greatest light can be found in the deepest darkness. The more challenging the darkness, the more strength, resourcefulness and endurance we can discover and bring to bear.

This was the message of the first Friday night of creation and it is the message of Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana is one long day; even the night is bright. Some of G-d’s judgements will be pleasant for us and some won’t, but none of His judgements will be bad. Their sunnyside might be down; our job will be to turn the sunnyside back up.

The season of judgement begins on the wood chopping day. In the beginning of this season we are all conditioned to view challenges in a negative light. But by the time we arrive at Rosh Hashana, we are conditioned to look at the night and see it as bright–we define two days as a single long day as if the sun doesn’t set on Rosh Hashana. Then comes the seventh day of Sukkot, when there is no mention of darkness at all. Just the positive. On this day we draw water; the elixir of life.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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