Shalom. Shannah Tovah. The new year 5778 is dawning and with it come our hopes and dreams, and anxieties for our future. What will this new year bring? Who shall we be a year from now? Our appreciation of time is more focused and we slowly understand that we cannot afford to let precious moments slip away. Yet, there is that powerful message of this time of year of creation, renewal and rebirth. What shall our future be?
I often have looked at the Hebrew letters that make up the number of the year to gather some insight from tradition as to a message for the year. 5778 seems no different. The Hebrew “ayin” represents the number 70 and the letter “chet” for 8. So what can “ayen chet” teach us? The “ayin” is the first letter for the word for eye. One hopes that in this coming year we will be able to “see” with greater clarity the important aspects of our life. This is especially important as we affirm our own aging. We hope to “see” that the material aspects of existence pale in light of the relationships we have. These relationships, which grow more precious as we get older, are the true wealth. Shared moments with the people we care for become the glue that holds life together. When we “see” this truth, the wealthier our lives become.
The “chet” is a powerful letter. For the Holidays it can stand for two ideas: the “chait” and “chayim”. Sin and life, two paths that are always there for us. We will be reminded of this int he Holiday liturgy as well. One hopes that in this coming year we will be able to “see” with greater clarity the choices we have before us, choices between blessing and curse, good and evil, life and death, “sin” and “life”. Again, the power of our own ability to choose, as we will read on Yom Kippur, reminds us the what and how we choose determines who we are.
THE prayer of the Holidays that also captures some of the tension between choices and the randomness of life is the very powerful “Unetaneh Tokef”. Generations of rabbis have preached on this. It is a powerful and dramatic prayer that is, I think, best understood as we get older. A colleague, Rabbi Joseph Meszler (Temple Sinai of Sharon, MA) authored a very meaningful updated version of this prayer. It was first published at ReformJudaism.org as part of the URJ web site. He gave Jewish Sacred Aging the OK to reprint it here as a coda to this brief reflection on the “ayin” and “chet” of 78.
On Rosh Hoshonnah it is written, on Yom KIppur it is sealed:
That this year people will live and die
some more gently than others
and nothing lives forever.
But amidst overwhelming forces of nature and humankind
we still write our own Book of Life,
and our actions are the words in it,
and the stages of our lives are the chapters,
and nothing goes unrecorded, ever.
Every deed counts.
Everything you do matters.
And we can never know what act or word
will leave an impression or tip the scale,
So if not now, when?
For the things that we can change, there is “t’shuvah, realignment.
For the things we cannot change, there is ‘t’fila, prayer.
For the help we can give, there is tzedakah, justice.
Together, let us write a beautiful Book of Life
for the Holy One to read.
To all of you, from my family and Jewish Sacred Aging, thank you for your continued support. Accpet our wishes for a year of health, joy, peace and love.
Rabbi Richard F Address
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.