Happy New Year. This is a strange Rosh Hoshonnah for me. Transitions are always a challenge. Entering the “next chapter” in life is at once filled with anxiety as well as excitement. The calendar is full, but, it is different. So too with this time of year for all of us. The new year begins, and so many emotions come rushing in to our souls. These next days challenge us to again confront our past and contemplate our future, and all the while, that gnawing question of Genesis 3 remains: “where are we?” Perhaps one of the great gifts of the Holiday season is the opportunity it gives us to be quiet for a while and to think about what we wish to be in this coming year. We are so defined by material things: a job, a house, possessions; that we sometimes lose track of the “me” inside of us. In these past few years, as I have become more conscious of my own aging, I have found I have spent much more time thinking about that Genesis 3 question of “ayecka?” I wonder if we ever truly “find” our true self and that this search really is a life long process; each Rosh Hoshonnah allowing us to peel back another layer of “self”. That of course is a gift, for in many ways, the liturgy of these days can be interpreted to give us permission to challenge our “self”, to grow and change and evolve. We are never the “same” person as we were last New Years. The spiritual mirror that is the Holidays is powerful as it reflects these changes. We just need to have to courage to look in that mirror.
So, a story for the New Year. A classic Chelm story that may be helpful to contemplate as you sit in synagogue these next few days. It is a favorite.
A Chelmite was in the bath house and he realized that without clothes all people were indistinguishable.”When it is time to go home”, he thought, “how will I know which one is me?” So, he found a piece of red string and tied it around his toe. “Aha”, he thought, “now I will know who is me” as he now had an identity. Of course, in the process of bathing the string fell off and when another bather stepped on it, it clung to his toe. When he finished bathing, our Chelmite hero looked down but saw nothing. He then noticed the other man with the red string on his toe. Our Chelmite walked over to the man with the red string on his toe and said: “Pardon me. I know who you are, can you please tell me who I am?”
May this new year of 5775 bring us the opportunity to continue our search for who we really are. May we have the courage to remove the false identities that so often define us and may we be strong enough to define our self through our eyes and experiences, and not through the eyes and words of others.
Have a sweet and peaceful and he
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.