By Harriet P. Gross
The autumn solstice has come and gone, and the heads of all living things now bow with the weight of the new season. The leaves are starting to fall. My cat has begun to grow her heavy winter coat, and lolls beside me on the floor as I sit at my computer. I contemplate the keyboard, coming to this annual conclusion: “I will never live long enough to write all the words.”
Fall’s message is that although summer’s heat seems forever when it’s present, in reality it’s just a brief stop in time, quickly over. As fleeting as life itself.
We’ve entered another Rosh Hashanah. As I move forward, I marvel at the wisdom of our ancestors, who declared their belief in the future when they chose this dying season for the beginning of the year. It must have taken many cycles for primitive human beings to understand that dead-looking trees will actually leaf again. It was an act of faith to declare that the new year starts here, at nature’s lowest ebb. It was an affirmation of belief in life itself.
We Jews know in our bones that, no matter how assimilated our societies seem, the uprisings of one political or racial or religious or ethnic group against another are recurring constants in the history of humanity. We have already had 5,773 full years in which to observe it. Instead of merely being surprised about why this keeps happening, we wonder why no people on earth have ever been strong enough and wise enough to stop it from happening at all. How can it be that countries with the intellectual ability to put humans on the moon can’t control their fear of — and hatred against — other humans here on earth?
This New Year, I thought back to the sweet young teenagers I used to teach in Sunday school. I was sure even then that it took an act of faith for any 14-year-old to start out in high school, step off toward maturity and begin to make major decisions that would affect not only the individual self, but generations yet to come. Modern psychology tries to assist youngsters in exploring such questions as “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” But individuals grow only by learning to formulate the right questions for themselves and then find satisfying personal answers. While psychology may help, this is basically a job to be done in solitude. The task of becoming a real person is lonely work.
Over my many years, I’ve come to see all of humanity, from the start of time to infinity, as a huge canvas in a frame large enough to accommodate the dabblings of every individual. Each of us paints our little piece, then puts the brush down. The picture is constantly evolving, embodying both harmonies and disharmonies. The colors, like the painters themselves, often clash. It’s hard to use our insignificant little brushes with forethought and foresight when we can’t see the totality of the canvas on which we’re painting. But the Talmud tells us that although it’s not incumbent upon any one of us to finish the work, neither can any of us refuse to contribute to it. Making our little marks is an act of faith for everyone.
When the tree drops its leaves, it’s actually preparing for spring. My cat grows her hair with some instinctive knowledge of a regular order to the spiraling seasons. At my keyboard, I say “I will not live long enough to use all the words I know. And even if I could live forever, I would still not know all the words there are to use.” But this computer is my paintbrush, so I do what I can. This is my act of faith.
Join this continuing Jewish parade. Carry your Torahs with pride, and dance with them tonight in joy. I wish all of us a 5774 full of faith in the future.