The ancient rabbis famously commented on the difficult opening chapters of the book of Genesis that kol ha’hathalot kashot; all beginnings are difficult. It was a rather glib observation on the slow but steady deterioration of the state of the world from its idyllic, Edenesque state to the point where God actually regrets having created humanity.
The Jewish calendar offers us the unusual opportunity (not that we really have a choice) to transition from ending to beginning on the same morning. On Simhat Torah just a few days ago, no sooner did we conclude the reading of Deuteronomy than we began reading Exodus. We end, we begin. No muss, no fuss. If nothing else, it suggests that the only appropriate way to conclude the yearly cycle of reading the Five Books of Moses is to begin again immediately.
That’s all well and good as the study of Torah goes, and I agree. But we humans also need time for reflection and contemplation as we segue from the madness and intensity of the holidays to the more mundane rhythms of day-to-day life. When you’re traveling at 100 mph, you have to slow down before you shift into reverse or the transmission will fall out of your car.
To some degree, the extraordinary events of the past few weeks in the financial world have provided some thematic carry-over, if you will, from the experience of the high holidays to the weeks and months to follow. We will not soon forget what it felt like to gather in sanctuaries around the world and wonder when and if the world as we had known it would return. Our transition this year is, indeed, somewhat different.
But no matter what happens in the financial world, life goes on. Our children return to school, we return to uninterrupted workweeks, and the trappings of normalcy- such that there is such a thing- are once again the road posts by which we live our lives.
I told my congregation on Shmini Atzeret that I hoped they could take with them back to the “real world” that sense of existential urgency that they had felt on the holidays this year. It seems to me that the awareness of the fundamental fragility of the things we depend on the most is a profoundly religious sensitivity, and we intuited that this year- perhaps more than we cared to. None of us really know what the “new normal” will be as our country slips inexorably into a recession. All we know is that it will be different than it has been, and not particularly pleasant.
It strikes me that community has never been more important, and spiritual community even more so…