By Rabbi Mark Melamut
I’d like to share a story with you about a child of a certain Rabbi who used to wander into the woods. At first the father let the child wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were dangerous and he didn’t know what lurked there. He decided to discuss the matter with his child. “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder, why do you go there?” The child replied, “I go there to find G-d.” “That’s a very good thing,” the father answered gently. “I’m glad you are searching for G-d. But, don’t you know that G-d is the same everywhere?” “Yes,” the child said, “but I’m not.”
It’s that time of year again when we prepare to greet our Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe and the New Year 5776. We pause at this time of year to celebrate, pray, hear the shofar, sing, fast, toss our crumbs into the ocean, nosh on apples and honey and reflect. While the days of the Jewish calendar are the same each and every year, in many ways, we are not. Just as the child in the story acknowledges, we aren’t the same as we were last year because life has changed us. What are the changes we’ve endured, undergone and celebrated since last Rosh Hashanah? Have we accomplished the goals we set? What has occurred in our work, family and personal lives since we were last at this meaningful crossroad in Jewish time?
For some of us life simply flies by, while for others time moves at a much slower pace. My kids asked me on our recent vacation flight to Newport for a family wedding, “Why is it that when we look out the window the plane seems like it is moving slowly? Isn’t it flying really fast? Are we moving slow or fast?” True, when I tapped the touch screen in front of me it reported that we were moving at a clip of 493 mph, yet out the window it looked like we were just gliding along slowly above the puffy clouds. Rather than providing my kids with a scientific answer in that moment (which I admit I’d need to google later), I simply answered their question of slow or fast, saying, “Yes.” Isn’t that how life sometimes feels though, moving simultaneously full speed ahead, yet somehow slowly as well.
The holiday liturgy gets this feeling just as we do. That’s why we say word after word (after word, after word, as these are the longest services of the year after all). Since this is the nature of life, one of our tasks is to make the most of it that we possibly can. After all, the ultimate purpose of the great trifecta of “tshuva, tfillah and tzedaka/change, prayer and charity” is to get us to slow down, be introspective, and make change, all in order to better appreciate our lives. This central mantra is about living and bettering life. What better way to do this than to gather together as a community in order to support, accompany, celebrate and enjoy each other’s company along the way.
When we walk together into the “woods” to greet the New Year, we acknowledge what has changed, for better or worse, and we simultaneously prepare ourselves for what is to come. So, grab your walking stick, any provisions you may need and a loved one or friend, and let’s saunter together along the path of life’s new year.
N’siyah tova/A good and meaning-full journey for all of us,