S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 7 September 2013 / 3 Tishri 5774

A Fleeting Look at the Year

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

It does not seem like such a long time ago that we were at the end of last year and anticipating this year. And now we are at the end of this year and anticipating next year. I don’t know about you but I find this all somewhat troubling. Each year begins with such a rush of enthusiasm and eagerness but by the time we get to the end of the year it is all a little jaded. The enthusiasm for this year is lost and the best that we can seem to muster up is to eagerly await the New Year, imagining that something new must be better than how things are right now.

If you ask the scientists they will explain that the world and everything in it are always in a constant state of movement, with some things easier to recognize as always being in a state of change than others. The moon, for example, does not stay still for a minute! It is always in a state of change – waxing and waning but never remaining the same. If you live a place where the night sky is clear you can even see the pattern of the moon’s growth during the space of one night. Inanimate objects, on the other hand, seem to be, well…inanimate. However, that is not really accurate because within them their molecular composition is in a constant state of agitation. Without this constant motion the “inanimate” object will not be able to exist. Fire, like the moon, is something that is always renewing itself. When we look at a flame we are not seeing something constant. We are seeing a flame that is in a constant state of renewal. That is one of the reasons why the King Solomon likens the soul to a flame. In the same way that a flame is constantly striving to move upwards and is never still for even a moment, so too the soul needs to be in a constant of state of spiritual movement, continuously straining to reach upwards beyond whatever has already been achieved and to find new spiritual vistas to be conquered. Interestingly enough, the moon is analogous to the Jewish Nation. Our Sages see many parallels between ourselves and the moon. Perhaps the most obvious one is that the moon waxes and wanes as do the fortunes of the Jewish People. There is much that one can learn from the moon, but its constant movement and change is the most important lesson of all. When we compare ourselves to the moon the most significant comparison needs to be that we too must always be moving – always growing, always stretching into something beyond what we were the moment before.

One of the greatest personalities in Jewish history, the Ba’al Shem Tov, once met a friend of his in the street and asked how he was faring. The friend began to complain of his bitter lot. He worked all day as a water carrier despite his old age and the difficulties of his job. Yet he still could not make ends meet with his meager earnings. He had older daughters at home whom he could not afford to marry off. Each day seemed bleaker than the day before it with no ray of hope in sight. The Ba’al Shem Tov commiserated with his suffering and wished him the best. The man thanked him for his interest and carried on with his load.

A few days later the Ba’al Shem Tov again met the same friend and again asked how he was faring. This time the man answered with a bright smile. “Thank G-d!” he said, “Everything is going fine. Thank G-d, I have a job and can afford the bare necessities. Imagine how difficult it is for the people who do not have the health to work. I have a wife and children and my daughters are G-d-fearing, healthy, clever, and have everything a father could wish for his children. So what if I can’t afford to offer a large dowry for them? Does that mean that they’ll never get married? Other people are poorer than me and still married off their children. With the help of G-d, so will I. We must not let our little troubles overcome us”, he told the Ba’al Shem Tov. “When you take everything in perspective life does not seem so hard at all!” With that he thanked the Ba’al Shem Tov again for his interest, and hurried along, humming a happy tune beneath his breath. The Ba’al Shem Tov then began to think. A person is judged on Rosh Hashana for all that will occur to him over the course of the year: his health, his prosperity, his family, his everything. But will he be able to appreciate what G-d grants him? That changes from day to day. Sometimes we can easily appreciate and recognize the gifts that G-d gives us. At other times it is not so easy and we feel disappointed over our sorry lot. Then we see only the black parts of our life, and cannot see the kindness of G-d that surrounds us.

It is quite astonishing that here we are at the brink of another New Year – Rosh Hashana. We will go to Synagogue again and we will listen to the Shofar blasts as we did last year, and eat apples and honey once more. We will greet everyone we meet with a big smile and a heartfelt salutation that they be blessed with a good sweet year. But will we stop to wonder why Rosh Hashana is such an enormous deal in the Jewish year? In truth, the world is in a constant state of renewal every moment of our existence. Each minute is like the flame of the candle that is replaced by another flame immediately, so fleeting that we can’t even see it happening. Everything is moving, even the table that seems so incredibly stable. That should really be a cause to stop and think. What about me? Am I in a state of constant agitation just like that flame? Am I in a state of continual movement and change like the moon? It’s hard to keep that in mind the whole time. It is quite an undertaking to accept that each moment of the day is non-returnable moment of pure potential that must be realized. That is what Rosh Hashana comes to teach us. If we utilize Rosh Hashana properly we are realigning our thoughts and the way that we interrelate with the world.

Why is so much emphasis placed on Rosh Hashana? Because it is hard to keep our spiritual “molecules” in focus all the time. But if we move into Rosh Hashana with the knowledge that it affords us the most incredible opportunity to hit the “restart” button, then we can truly spend the whole year aflame, because by using each moment as a stepping stone to the next we are really experiencing a miniature Rosh Hashana every day!

May we all be blessed with a sweet year of continued growth in our spiritual lives and may we all merit to appreciate each and every fleeting moment before it is replaced by the next — because each fleeting moment is an eternity in and of itself.

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