Welcome back! It’s that time of year again, where we huddle in close at shul together to welcome the New Year 5773. We gather here at this time of year for all kinds of reasons – to let the drops of honey and the taste of the round challah sweeten the sorrow of the past year, to pour out confession after confession, as we tap our hearts to awaken them from their slumber and from their slippery slide into habits that have clandestinely and overtly crept upon us, to hear the primal call of the shofar over this year’s dropped calls, and to just be together for the spiritual drama of Jewish life, the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe.
I think we gather as well to turn the switch “on” to the power of transformation. The Baal Shem Tov, the eighteenth-century founder of the Hasidic movement, was once traveling in a wagon that was packed full of passengers. Even though there was no room to move, when he saw a hitchhiker on the road, he nonetheless urged the driver to stop and offer the fellow a ride. ‘But there’s no more room for anybody else,’ responded the driver. ‘What are you talking about?’ said the Baal Shem Tov. ‘All we need to do is love each other just a little bit more, and there will be plenty of room.’ ”
Understanding that there will always be plenty of room is one of love’s primary lessons. Whether we speak of the love of others, of family, of special loved ones, or of the Divine and Sacred, we can feel that it has the power to transform.
It is love that compels us to make room for others in our lives, even when it might be inconvenient, to care for others, even when it might be a bit messy to do so, and to long for connection with those who are no longer with us. Love does have the power to transform us, and it is a sacred, perhaps the most sacred thing about being alive.
When we sing together our Un’taneh Tokef liturgy this year, “On Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed…,” we will be drawn towards its rhetorical questions of “who will pass on, and who will be born…who will be at peace and who will be troubled…,” because these reflect the ultimate reality of our lives. However, we’ll also be reminded of the power to transform. Indeed, we sing, even a bit defiantly in confronting these questions, “But.” “But, t’shuvah/turning, t’fillah/prayer and tzedakah/giving, have the power to transform the harshness of destiny.” Our High Holidays remind us every year that though some things are out of our control, the power to transform resides within us. We turn the switch “on” the power to transform when we stretch ourselves to love just a little bit more, and when we make plenty of room for our fellow travelers.
Wishing you and your loved ones a shana tova u’mtuka/a good and sweet New Year – a year full of stretching, of loving, of making and receiving plenty of room, and of traveling together,