Ups, downs, and then ups

Lapses happen.  But they can be followed by a new sweep of energy toward the goal.  The lapse itself, says Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, will have provided a new momentum.

Often the causes for lapses are out of our hands. Two months of suffering and loss are now behind us.  The next two months will demand much from our livelihoods.  As weeks now begin flowing into each other, is there a way for us to build new momentum?

The three chapters in this weeks portions of Torah gently take us by the hand.  They walk us from the lowest times toward higher ground.  The Hebrew word ‘ga’al’ meaning redeem or restore is plentiful in chapters 25 and 27, mentioned 19 and 12 times respectively.  But it’s omitted entirely in chapter 26.  Instead we find the recurrence of a slightly different word with a guttural ‘ayin’ instead of an ‘aleph’, which has the opposite meaning of loathe or abhor.  The arc of the final Levitical chapters is clear.  Rather than life consisting of ups and downs, it consists of ups, downs, and then ups.

This is, of course, much easier learned than lived.  Advice like ‘fall down 7 times, get up 8’ only gets us so far.  Yet when we are able, with the help of others, to pick ourselves up, and then do it again, and then again, our aptitude for recovery becomes self-taught.

Our Torah chapters come at the end of the Book of Leviticus whose beginning is the traditional launch point for childhood learning.  A book which sometimes feels mired in ancient details and particulars is really all about growth.

Years ago after failing to climb Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary shook his fist at a picture of the mountain, saying: “You won, this time. But you know, you’re as big as you’re ever going to get. But I’m still growing.”

May we take personally Mt. Sinai’s lessons that yearn to help us grow into believing in our recovery capacity.  And may we remake our moments of lapse into new sweeps of energy that generate fresh momentum.

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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