A New Loop on the Spiral

The following message from Rabbi Daniel Chorny appears in the 5774 Rosh HaShanah bulletin of Congregation Sons of Israel in Amsterdam, NY:

When I spent a year of study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, one of my teachers, Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, taught me that for our ancient rabbis, time is like a spiral.  While the first civilizations understood the world as an eternal wheel of death and rebirth, with everything predetermined by inescapable fate, the Jewish tradition teaches us that the universe has a clear beginning—G-d created it—and a definite conclusion that we call the Messianic Era.  Under this view, the stars cannot foretell a person’s destiny; an individual’s life-challenges and choices are not predictable and recurring like astronomical events.  Rather, we each have the freedom to choose actions and experiences that can either bring our world closer to ultimate perfection, or push it back in the direction of primordial chaos, tohu va-vohu. Our actions have deep, lasting effects.  We only get one chance to leave our mark on history.

But this progression is not a straight path. Summer becomes fall; trees lose their leaves and grow them back again; a new year begins at Rosh Hashanah just like the old year did.  Similarly, our deeds, are not isolated points on a line that we can never revisit or revise.  The mitzvah of teshuvah—or repentance—that we are commanded to do before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is not about simply regretting misdeeds and despairing from ever meeting our goals and expectations of ourselves.  It is about turning back to the things we have done that have brought us to where we are today to consider how we might live our lives better moving forward.  We can do this either by repeating and improving upon those deeds that make us proud, or committing ourselves not to make the same mistakes again.

This Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Congregation Sons of Israel and I have the opportunity to merge our paths on the spiral of time, bringing together the lessons from previous loops in order to learn from and strengthen one another in the coming year.  We will make mistakes, but hopefully not the same ones that we made since last Rosh Hashanah.  May our year together bring new life, joy, friends and experiences, in addition to familiar faces and time-honored traditions.  Shanah Tovah !

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