Tipping point or turning point

If someone would have said to you a year ago, ‘The following things are going to happen in next twelve months – 1) you’ll lose somebody you love; 2) your professional situation will undergo a reversal; 3) a good friend will become a former friend’ – you would have said, ‘Please don’t let those things happen.  I don’t want them to.  And I’m not sure I could survive if they did.’

Well, those things did happen, and you’re still here. The question to ponder entering Rosh Hashana is: ‘Whence came the resources that enabled you to survive?  How did you find the resources you didn’t believe you had in you – resources you may, in fact, have not had – until you were called upon to have to produce them?’  Everyone provides her or his own inner answer.  Personally, I believe God gently stirs a resilience that makes such resources manifest.

It is one thing to appreciate forces that added light in our dark times. Yet we also yearn to tap them and build momentum from them.  How?  This week’s portion of Torah describes a way.  The key ingredients for momentum are captured in the Hebrew words for turning (shuv) and heart (lev) which recur multiple times (Deut. Ch. 30).  Turning involves movement that is geographic, relational, and spiritual.

Two types of turning are described: ‘turning on’ and ‘returning’.  Turning on or against puts us at a greater distance, while returning generates intimacy.  The former offers a cold shoulder.  The ladder warms faith.

Turning away seems fashionable today.  Doing so may feel like it has reached a tipping point, like it has become a social epidemic.  Turning points are different.  They steer into a new direction.  Spiritually they can be generated by seminal moments when our yearnings feel in accord with God’s.  Such moments generate a momentum capable of running counter to all winds.

May we dip into sources – the Torah we learn this Shabbat, and the prayer book we hold as we enter the New Year – that prove to be faith-warming resources that help us deepen joy, solace grief, and nourish growth in the year to come.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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