Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ha’azinu

We just finished the Jewish High Holy Days. On the one hand, I am relieved of the stress. On the other hand, it was a beautiful holy day season at Monmouth Reform Temple. Many of my colleagues dread these days because of the pressure of preparation and the marathon services one has to lead. Once I know what I want to talk about for the Holy Days (sometimes a challenge), I get to focus on celebrating with my congregational family and extended family (as we welcome all guests). I am blessed to serve here.


That said, I love how our sages ordered our holidays and our Torah cycle. They are out of synch. We began the new year, even as we are not yet finished reading last year’s Torah cycle. I looked at this week’s Torah portion and realized that we still have a couple of weeks before we start over (Simchat Torah when we finish Deuteronomy and begin Genesis). I am intrigued with the location of this Torah portion in our calendar chronology. Is the new year a new start or is the new cycle a new start? The answer is yes, “new starts” are not moments in time; they are processes.


Of course, the sages give all sorts of reasons for why we are “out of synch,” but you know me. I am also often “out of synch.” What struck me this year, as I looked at the order of the fall holy days was – the order. We begin the new year while we are still ending last year’s reading cycle. At first, it seems odd that we begin something new, even while we have the old to still not just do, but celebrate. In the normal course of living, we experience the phenomenon of starting over while we still have to wrap up the past. Moving forward takes preparation and effort. Our intentions need to turn to the work of bringing closure to one world even as we embark on living the next (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur). Certainly, we celebrate/reflect on those moments of new news, but we have to work through the good or challenging news we confront.


Our youngest went to college, and in the midst of her new and exciting adventure, she still had to finish packaging the emotions tying her to old routines and relationships back home. The excitement for one grows, even as we slug through getting past old expected norms. This same phenomenon rings true in the job market. Even when we land a new position, we have to finish our commitment (several weeks of notice) to our old job. Celebrating that moment of release when you get to start over (Simchat Torah); when you have a grip on the new (no longer distant future) status in life; this is worth the party.


Our sages showed keen insight in the way in which our holidays play out. We never reach too high a high or are allowed anything prolonged with the places of despair. The cycles of celebration/commemoration push us to maintain perspective and provides us with eternal hope. We always know that the next celebration is just over the horizon. Whatever today’s challenge, as Annie put it, “The sun will come out tomorrow.” The holidays of reflection (including memorials to those passed on) help us stay focused that celebration will come. From personal experience, I can tell you that having experienced this truth in my world (holiday and otherwise), it makes the challenges that much easier to process. It makes the work of t’shuvah (turning our hearts) less threatening. It allows us to participate in the toughest moments of atonement with hope.


While we read from the prayer book, acknowledging all the places where we fell short this past year, confessing our need to do the real soul searching necessary for change, we get to end every such thought with “and the time to celebrate is coming quickly.” We see so many depressed people who are stuck in their baggage. The promise of our cycle keeps reminding us that we are never without celebration, even in the toughest moments. This belief is precisely what compels me to tell people that I am blessed every day. I struggle with a lot internally and externally, but I absolutely know that I am more blessed than challenged, but often I take the blessings for granted. Failing to remember that the blessings exist is where most people who only struggle, emotionally fail.


So, we are in a new year and should be using the next couples of weeks to finish our reflections on the year passed by. I believe that we should all take some moments to reflect on the past, but more so, prepare ourselves to make the most of our joys to come. Shabbat shalom.