A Busy Road Assesses Our Spiritual Well-Being

Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank

The reverence granted for any given holiday may be assessed by the traffic right outside my window.

I live on South Oyster Bay Road and the ruling metric is the less traffic, the greater the reverence granted for the holiday. For example, sad to say, Veterans Day is really not given its due. The traffic runs as it would on almost any other day. But on Christmas—particularly Christmas morning—I could unfurl a beach towel in the middle of the road and work on a sun tan. Well, not really (I burn more than tan).But the point is that Christmas is clearly revered, and that’s good news. I look forward to Christmas morning each year, and the empty solitude of the otherwise-busy road I love.

Those few precious Christmas morning hours remind me of my student days in Jerusalem, when on any given Sabbath morning, the streets were also still, with no traffic to speak of save a pedestrian here and there en route to morning prayers. It was a routine weekly sense of peace, not only for individuals or families that abided by the Sabbath, but for an entire country, much like Christmas morning in America, when the nation seems at rest.

It’s a good thing I find 18 wheelers, buses and wide-load transports entertaining. How else does one survive life with a front yard bordering on a veritable highway?

But all this traffic brings to mind our hectic pace of life, which if sustained uninterrupted over a long period, must take its toll on the human psyche. The meeting of deadlines, the meals on the run and the frustration of an unreliable commute will necessarily deplete our energies. When we wake up after eight hours of sleep and still feel drained, it’s not sleep that we lack, but something far more fundamental.

The nation has increasingly turned its attention to mental health, particularly after each eruption of yet another senseless act of violence.

But what we rarely talk about is spiritual health, and whether our tenuous connections with our respective faith traditions have left us in the dark over exactly what all our rushing here and there is about. Faith traditions are expert in positing what the human mission is, what our responsibilities to each other are and how a higher power might channel our energies. When we are no longer guided by these time-honored directives, the human heart will seek to fill the vacuum. There’s a good chance that those other principles, and the groups that espouse them will not be serving in the best interests of society as a whole.

When we talk about improving our town, we talk about all the right things—clean air and water, inviting commercial areas, accessible park and recreational space, ethical government, excellent schools and mental health. But how about mustering the courage to add spiritual health to the mix?

If the higher power in our lives is no more than the White House, the Supreme Court and the United States Congress, we may be in trouble. The United States government grants us about 10 holidays a year, and any number of them are squandered on shopping for bargains or barbecues. In contrast, our faith traditions, based on Sabbaths alone, give us about 52 holidays a year, and demand that we take time to breathe, reflect, repent and regenerate. Because we live in a world that honors and rewards hard work, we are forever primed to find any excuse to keep busy at times when we really ought to shut down. And that’s why our faith traditions have never been more needed. They demand that we make a concerted effort to cleanse and redirect our souls regularly, such that we may live the more noble and focused lives. We could all use a little more time for reflection and regeneration. As could everyone in our town. As could everyone in our nation.

If I had a wish for the new year, it would be to see South Oyster Bay Road still and quiet more often than once-a-year.


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