As we slip into another year in the Gregorian calendar, it is easy to allow the regular patterns that define our lives to keep us flowing into this new year and well beyond. As creatures of habit and repetition, it is easy to let go of the holiday spirit and get back to business as usual. And so, the weeks, months and years fly by.
The Torah is structured to guide us differently. It begins with stories: real people going through real challenges, not unlike our own, a world in turmoil, with those you can depend on to be there with you, and those you cannot. How do we tap into the stories of the Ancestors, inclusive of the struggles that their children faced when they became ensconced in Egypt ? The Torah, in its transitioning from tales and stories to rules and laws, shows us ways to explore the relationship between how we live in the flow of our years and the principles and values that govern and drive the decisions we make, reflecting what we do and with whom.
We learn from the tales of the Ancestors that life is easy for no one, and that all of our stories count, in terms of how we cope with life’s challenges. The fact that with the book of Shemot, Exodus, the Torah transitions into becoming more of a law book, a structure for living, indicates that there is much more to life than doing the same each year as we did the year before. The laws and rules for daily living serve to provide strategies and tools for not only examining our life stories, but more significantly, addressing nuances and characteristics we can improve on, that with conscious attention to details, as in what the mitzvot give us to do, we can change, for the better, the tale of our journey as it continues to unfold.
Both, the Passover Seder, and the day of transformation, Yom Kippur, conclude with the same call to “action”: Next Year in Jerusalem ! That cry is less a matter of planning your next vacation than it is envisioning a change in the structure of your life and the world we inhabit as we live out our life stories. “Next Year in Jerusalem” means a commitment to a world that integrates what we do with values we hold dear, and that we create contexts of community that enable and encourage us to live differently, by being increasingly in relationship with good and caring people, dedicated to making the world safer, healthier and, thereby, happier.
Jerusalem is symbolic of a barometer of life. It has been known for loneliness and despair, as in Tisha B’Av, the day acknowledging the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people all over the world, into a mode of survival, which has characterized us for over 2000 years. It is also symbolic of the greatest joy imaginable: “Ir shalom”, a “City of Peace ”, heralding an era of shalom for the world.
As we move into the familiar patterns of a new secular year, with the continuation of the Jewish year 5770, we have an opportunity (in the spirit of New Year resolutions) to examine our daily lives, our assumptions, and all that comprises our own life stories, and consider how, as the Torah moves into the legal aspect of how life works, we can engage the teachings that Moses brought to the people, and apply them in the way we do our daily activity, with an eye and heart to doing the story differently. For starters, we can consider the secular approach to life which segments the concept of good cheer and peace on earth, as a thought for the end of a year, and consider how to apply that wish in the energy we apply every day.
If we can integrate the stories of the Ancestors, and our own, with the teachings given the people at Sinai, as the Torah moves in that direction, on our way to Passover, then, maybe, by the time we reach the Days of Awe in September, we will discover their true purpose: not to be Days devoted to regret, shortcomings and an implied forgiveness for continuing the “same old, same old”, year after year, as much as a celebration of how we have truly changed, and along with us, the world we inhabit, for these few moments, as measured in God’s time.
We are fortunate to have the age old wisdom of Torah to turn to and engage, for, absent that teaching, we are left with the rote of life, and the likelihood that life will continue to be a sequence of ongoing sameness, leaving us to wonder where the years went, and what value our being alive has meant, and to whom.
May the continuation of 5770 be a year of transformation that will enable us to make 2010 the start of a wonderful decade.