Published September 2020
Enjoy The Chopped Herring
The journalist Jennifer Senior recently described the pervasive national mood as “hitting a wall of pandemic proportions”. With good reason! We are confronted by serious stresses on so many fronts. It’s a good time to remind ourselves that if we look at life realistically, we would recognize that there are still multitudinous “small” pleasures available to us every day.
As the Bible puts it: “That every person should eat and drink and enjoy pleasure for all his labor is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13) I am reminded of the story told about Napoleon Bonaparte who, after the Battle of Austerlitz, called before him the representatives of the various nationalities among his troops and told them that he wanted to reward their valor by granting whatever wish they might desire. A Polish soldier cried out: “Grant Poland freedom.” A Slovak wanted a farm. A German soldier asked for a brewery. To each Napoleon said rather grandly: “Your wish shall be granted”. Then he asked a Jewish soldier for his wish. The Jew said he would settle for some chopped herring. Napoleon ordered that it should be given to the Jewish soldier immediately.
His fellows twitted the Jew for his absurd request when he could have had a reward of great consequence. “We shall see who is the foolish one”, said the Jew. “See if Poland is freed or if the Slovak gets his farm and the German his brewery. Maybe yes, maybe no. In the meantime, I’m enjoying my herring.”
In the new year of 5781, let us work as hard as we possibly can to make our grand dreams come true. In the meantime, however, even within the limitations of social distancing, let us enjoy our families and friends. Enjoy a good meal, a good book, a good television show, a good movie, or some good music. Enjoy sports, exercise, art, hobbies, helping others, and making someone happy. Enjoy the sheer ecstasy of being alive.
Shanah Tovah. May you be inscribed for a happy, healthy and sweet year, as well as an abundance of chopped herring!
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD