A few years ago, during the pandemic, my family watched a movie called “Yes Day” on Netflix.
It follows a classic Hollywood formula that you can recognize at least as far back as Mary Poppins: functional but unhappy family, busy parents, mother-teenage daughter tension — the usual.
The parents get called in for a school conference after their kids refer to them as dictators in an assignment, and that leads to the hook (and the title) of the movie: the kids get the parents to agree to a Yes Day.
For one day, whatever the kids want, the parents can’t say no — they have to say yes.
Ice cream sundaes for breakfast? Check. Go through the car wash with the windows down? Check. Water balloon fight? Silly costumes? Nutty capture the flag game in a public park with strangers? Check, check, check.
Oh, and the kids demand that the parents have to be off their phones for the whole day. (Which is a nice way to practice Shabbat, by the way, but I digress.)
Wikipedia tells me that 62 million people watched the film, which means (I think) that it did pretty well. And I think what made the movie land for a lot of people was that it’s pretty recognizable.
For many of us, life feels so busy and structured, and we spend so much time saying “no” to so many things. No, I can’t get involved with this right now. No, I don’t have time to come visit you. No, I can’t help. No, I can’t even take care of myself.
What if we could just have a Yes Day? That’s the fantasy of the movie — and it seemed to resonate with at least 62 million of us.
The Torah portion of Shemot, which opens the Book of Exodus, is, in a deep way, the story of several yes days — or, at least, some very key yes moments. I can think of at least three.
The first comes right at the beginning, after Pharaoh decrees that all the male Israelite babies are to be killed.
Two midwives, Shifra and Puah, decide to say no to Pharaoh’s order, in order to say yes to their own instincts of morality and compassion. Had they not said yes to themselves and what they knew was right, the Israelite people might not have survived.
The second moment is when Pharaoh’s daughter sees the basket carrying baby Moses down the Nile. Again, saying no to her father’s decree, she says yes to the baby when she discovers him.
She takes him into her home and rears him as her own. Had she not said yes to what her body and emotions were telling her — to be compassionate and loving — Moses might not have grown up to lead the people out of slavery.
The final moment is when Moses, now grown up and herding sheep far away from Egypt, sees a miraculous sight — a bush that was burning, but that wasn’t burning up.
“I need to turn aside to go check it out,” Moses says — and there he encounters God, who tells him to go back to Egypt and free the people.
Had Moses not said yes to his own curiosity — had he said, “I’m busy, I’ve got to get the sheep back home, and I’ve gotta post my Shepherd TikTok dance” — none of the rest of the story might have taken place, and we might still be slaves in Egypt.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we say yes to every idea that comes into our mind or that we lose all discipline. Setting wise boundaries — what we might call gevurah in Hebrew — that’s obviously really important.
But I think we can all probably be a little more mindful in how and when we set those limits. If we find ourselves saying no all the time, well, I don’t know about you, but for me, that feels off. It doesn’t make me feel good. Like something is off balance.
In Jewish mystical thought, wise boundaries — gevurah — live in a healthy tension with loving connection, or hesed.
When we practice too much gevurah, it can sometimes lead to smothering out our hesed — our natural need and desire for those loving relationships with people, places, experiences, the world, life.
And in fact, if we’re going to err to one side, I know that, for me anyway, it seems better to err on the side of hesed — a little more loving connection than boundary-setting. I’d rather my first impulse be a loving, connecting, hesed-based impulse.
So our practice for this week is to give yourself a yes day — or, at least, some yes moments during the day. Spend a little time in reflection this week to notice a place or two where, perhaps, you can soften your reflexive gevurah, your saying no, in order to mindfully flex your hesed muscle and say yes.
Maybe it’s in a relationship with a friend, roommate, or loved one — perhaps you can say yes to them in a way you haven’t been saying yes recently. Maybe it’s with a coworker or someone else in your professional life. Maybe it’s with someone you see on the street who’s asking for money.
See if you can notice where the impulse to say no comes from. And then see if you can bring a little tenderness to it, open your heart, open your hand, and maybe even bring a smile to your face. What you’re doing is unblocking the hesed, the impulse for loving connection, that’s inside you.
When you unblock it, when you allow it to flow — you might find yourself feeling a little freer, a little more connected, maybe even a little holier.
Blessings for the journey. Know that I’m on it with you.