Through Your Eyes: The interplay of the changing views of our tradition with the changing ways we examine our own lives
The following appeared in the January edition of the Jacksonville Jewish News:
This month we celebrate the Jewish Holiday Tu B’shvat, also known as “Rosh Hashana L’ilanot” the birthday of the saplings. A few weeks later, Leora and I will celebrate the first birthday of our own sapling, Rena. This is Rena’s first Tu B’shvat, just as she has celebrated holiday firsts after holiday firsts this past year.
Having an addition or loss in one’s family always puts a spin on liminal moments throughout our Jewish calendar. To celebrate holidays when someone is missing is tempered by the joy we feel when we see a new addition experiencing Jewish communal life for the first time. Our own holiday moments have blossomed seeing them through Rena’s eyes. As each year passes, the snapshots of Jewish time will change as well. This goes beyond the holiday gatherings. Our lectionary cycle of Torah reading remains the same year to year, but our lives change our interpretation of the text, as we are never the same person year to year. We empower ourselves to make the words come alive and find relevance in for us today. In the month of January, four vastly different Torah portions are read over the course of four Shabbatot. Each of them teaches us something different about ourselves, giving us the tools and instructions to build a better tomorrow. Imagine one take a way a week to guide your life. One value set to work on. In each Torah portion, I look for inspiration to make me a better parent, a better husband, a better leader, a better Jew, a better human being.
Parshat Bo: Our portion states, “Bo el Paro”, come unto Pharaoh. Moses, having been shot down time and time again by Pharaoh, is asked to come to Pharaoh knowing his heart was hardened, knowing seven plagues had not swayed his decision. Parshat Bo, for me, is about taking risks, taking chances in an uphill battle because success is predicated on participation in the challenges brought before us. Bo inspires us to find meaning and purpose in the discomforting places and moments that fill our lives.
Parshat B’shalach: Parshat B’shalach (falling on Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song) takes us on a journey from Egypt to the Desert by way of the Sea of Reeds. After escaping the Egyptian onslaught, the Israelites break into jubilation. The text states, “Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song (Ex. 15:1). Moses, the quiet, humble leader has his first song with backup vocals from the Jewish people. Delivered from slavery, transformed by miracles, the group sang together as one. B’shalach teaches us that moments, both bitter and sweet, are meant to be experienced as community. B’shalach teaches us that while Moses was a risky pick to lead the Jewish people, he was the right pick. Not the loudest, not the most connected. Maybe it’s ok to invest a little time and energy on those who show humility as their greatest strength.
Parshat Yitro: Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, is taken aside to hear the story of the Israelite journey from Egypt. When he hears about the tragedy that befell the Egyptians, the text states, “Vayichad Yitro.” A rare word, Vayichad comes from the word for goosebumps. The text teaches us about the value of sensitivity. We must be sensitive to the fact that we all come with our own baggage, our own expectations. Some come from a place of happiness and positivity, others from a place of pain and brokenness.
Parshat Mishpatim: The Torah portion known as “laws”. We get a wide variety of does and don’ts ranging from laws concerning bribery to laws concerning the holidays. Thus is the value of updating our software. The world’s largest law book should inspire us to search for meaning in our daily lives. How will these laws find relevance for us? How will they inform our business practices and our spiritual ones?
Take risks, value humility, be sensitive, and update your software. Not so bad for some monthly goals.