BY RABBI BARRY COHEN
We are now in the heart of the Hebrew month of Elul, the time of preparation for the High Holidays. We are to use this month to get in the right mindset – a spiritual mindset – so that we increase the likelihood that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be inspiring and transformative.
During Elul, I return to the story, “The Bag of Trouble,” from A Year of Jewish Stories: 52 Tales for Children and Their Families, by Grace Ragues Maisel and Samantha Shubert. This tale enables me to keep in perspective whatever I consider to be my troubles.
The following is an adaptation of the story:
Reina was 13 years old and lived in New York’s Lower East Side. She felt burdened by tsuris, a long list of troubles, including her little brother, spelling tests and Brussels sprouts. She would stuff her tsuris into a bag, but she was worried that it would soon overflow.
In fact, the bag had already become so heavy that it caused Reina to be late because of the extra time she needed to drag it to school.
“What is that bag by your desk?” asked her teacher.
“My bag of troubles,” said Reina.
“You have troubles?” she inquired.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Reina responded.
Her classmates, as if on cue, nodded in agreement, and some even yelled out their own troubles.
“I’m changing your homework assignment,” said the teacher. “Tonight, everyone needs to put all your troubles into a bag and bring it to school.”
The next day, Reina was shocked to see what everyone brought: string bags, paper bags, cloth bags and pillowcases. Several classmates brought in more than one bag.
“What are we going to do with all of these bags?” asked Reina.
“First of all, class, you need to open up your bags,” the teacher replied. “Then everyone needs to walk around and look inside. See if you can find someone who wants to trade his or her bag with yours.”
As she walked around the class, Reina found more problems than she ever imagined. She didn’t want to trade her tsuris with any of them. Then she looked back inside her bag. She found the time she was scolded for forgetting her homework, the time she had chickenpox and that not-so-great spelling test score. But then she noticed that her bag was getting smaller and lighter. In fact, after a few minutes, she could even fold up her bag and put it in her pocket.
Later that night, her parents noticed she was much happier than usual.
“Did something happen at school today to put you in a good mood?” asked her mother.
“Kind of,” said Reina. “I learned a new way to handle my tsuris. The secret is that they need company.”
“What do you mean?” asked her father.
“Take your troubles out once in a while, and let them get to know someone else’s troubles,” she explained. “That’ll keep ’em out of your way.”
Let us all make the most of the remaining days of Elul and be ready for the start of 5781.
Rabbi Barry Cohen is Jewish Community Chaplain of the Greater Portland Area. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 971-361-6124.