An Early Start

When the temperature spiked this week from 45 to 90 degrees, it threw me off a bit. As if in a dream, I started packing for the Cape, our annual summer destination. This, in turn, activated a lot of signals to my hippocampus, awakening memories of what comes along with the Cape.

At the beginning of every summer for close to 40 years, I contemplate the upcoming new year.  I ponder so many different things. I think about my life as a pond with concentric ripples fanning out. The first circle is my immediate reality: my body, my choices. Next are my wife and kids, my relatives and oldest friends. Then comes my temple family, the people I work with professionally, and the congregation I serve. And then there’s the more diffuse local, regional, national, and international issues that involve and intrude on my pond, like a thunderstorm or a cool breeze or a blizzard, depending on who’s doing what where.

This is the pond into which I jump every day. But in the heat of these last few days, I’ve started to especially examine and reexamine the waters, as if Rosh Hashanah were around the corner. I’m not complaining – after all, a little extra time spent in reflection mode can’t be bad.

But it does make me wonder: what’s this world coming to? And what am I coming to? Surely with age comes an acute sense of limits and finitude. But just as certainly, with age comes wisdom. In fact, the book of Psalms, 90:12, suggests that acknowledging mortality leads to wisdom. “Teach us to number our days, that we may attain a heart of wisdom.”

Yes, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to everything – except God – and maybe the multiverse. As spring edges to summer, as summer pushes towards Fall, there is this sense that a personal account checking is in order. It’s time to explore our blessings and challenges of the past year and how we have responded to them.  What kind of connections have we made? What connections have we broken?  It’s a time to reflect on the fact that we live in relationship to each other and all the earth. And it’s a time for honest reflection, forgiveness, celebration and healing.

I know, I know. I’m a little bit early. I’ve put away the summer clothes box and the Crocs. But I’m stuck with this looming sense of urgency ignited by the weather. I think I’m going to stick with it, see where it takes me.

Rabbi Eliezer taught “Repent one day before your death.” His students said, “Rabbi, how is that possible if one doesn’t know the day of one’s death?” To which Rabbi Eliezer responded, “Aha! Making amends and being in spiritual balance is not something to put on layaway! It must always be in your mind and heart.”

The rabbi has a point. What matters most, in the end, is not how many toys we have collected. What truly counts is to be wholeheartedly clear that, at the end of the day, we have done our best to do the right thing. How to be clear? That’s the work. And now that the heat has activated the High Holy Day prep syndrome, I’m on it. As Rabbi Eliezer indicates, it’s always the right time.

Shabbat Shalom


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