How is Rosh HaShanah Like Chutes & Ladders? Rabbi Dennis Explains
No matter what we do – or do not do – during the other 355 days of the year, the Jewish People set aside the ten days from the Eve of Rosh HaShanah through the closing Shofar blast on Yom Kippur to contemplate the complexities of life. The High Holy Day season reminds us that sometimes we have to concentrate not on the highs and lows of daily living, but on the height and depth of meaning in our spiritual lives. We have to concentrate not on the intensity of reality, but on the attitude of our spirit.
Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav would introduce these YAMIM NORA’IM – these Ten Days of Awe – with a perspective on “the Torah of little things.” He believed that we could learn appropriate lessons for life from even a game of checkers. “Just as in checkers,” he said, “in life you can only move in one direction, towards the end of the board. As in checkers, when you reach the end of the board called life, you can move wherever you want in a timeless way.”
It then occurred to me that the perfect game for this High Holy Day season is Chutes and Ladders: the instructions on the box indicate that it is geared for people ages 3 and up, which – like life – pretty much includes everyone.
Chutes and Ladders is a simple game to play. The board has 100 squares numbered from bottom to top. Each player is permitted to advance by the numbers of squares corresponding to the role of the dice. The goal, of course, is to reach the 100th square first and win the game.
The twist consists in the fact that certain squares are marked by ladders and others by chutes (or slides, more commonly). Ladders, depending on their length, can propel you ahead of your competition. Chutes, also depending on their length, can drop you far behind. You can be trailing miserably with no hope of winning, then suddenly you land on a square at the base of the tallest ladder that catapults you into the lead. Just the opposite is true when you are sitting on square 81, far ahead of everyone else with only 19 to go; you roll a pair of threes and move six spaces. You now land on square 87, the launching pad for the longest and most devastating chute on the board. When you have finished sliding, you are all the way back on square 24.
We all recognize the message of the game as we face forward into the New Year. There is no such thing as a sure thing. Nothing is certain except uncertainty. Most of us work the game board of life one square at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time. We advance by plugging away.
As we move forward towards Yom Kippur, we wish each other G’MAR TOV: “finish well”. Some people understand it as referring to the fast, that you should endure it without ill effect. I prefer to see the wish as pertaining not to the diet, but to the soul. G’MAR TOV: finish each day of life well by learning how to savor whatever sweetness life may produce. Do not overlook or postpone opportunities to advance, for you may not know what chutes or ladders lie just around the corner. If you succeed, then share your success; if you lose, then learn from it. Finally, when witnessing others sliding down chutes and climbing ladders, give them the support they need so that they will finish the day with the positive spark you have shared with them.
🍎 🍯 🐝 🍯 🐝 🍯 🐝 🍯 🐝 🍎
My blessings for our community:
🍯 May we experience a good year and a year of goodness.
🍯 May the changes we experience in the New Year be for the better.
🍯 May we emerge from the Yom Kippur experience healthy in body and soul.
🍯 May we finish each day well, whether we are at the bottom of a chute or at the top of a ladder, with the ability to move forward in health, joy, humor and peace.
B’kavod – With Honor,
Rabbi Dennis Eisner
Director of Institutional Advancement