Every day can be unique, with the correct mindset
This summer featured a fun dose of fresh and new for our family vacation. We went on an Alaskan Cruise with my extended family — (Wow, Alaska is stunningly beautiful!) — and spent time in Vancouver and Seattle, two other places we had not previously visited. One of summer’s special blessings is the opportunity to experience necessary moments of renewal by taking a break from our normal activities. But of course, before you know it, summer comes to a close and we are back to the grind again. In these first few weeks of September, we might already find ourselves sneaking peeks ahead to December, or February or June, thinking about our next opportunity for travel. Aside from going to the Southwest or American Airlines apps and booking flights, are there other ways to find renewal amid, rather than outside, our routine?
A teaching from this week’s parashah, Ki Tavo, offers some insight along these lines. On the doorstep of the land of Canaan, our ancestors are commanded to bring forward the bikkurim, their offerings of first fruits, when they ultimately get settled in the fertile land that God has given them and begin reaping its bounty. Each Israelite is instructed to go to the Kohen, the priest, and tell him: “I acknowledge today before God that I have entered the land that God swore to our fathers to assign us” (Deuteronomy 26:3). Later in the parashah, we also read hayom hazeh, this day, “the Lord commands you to observe these laws and rules, to observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul. You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in God’s ways…” (Deuteronomy 26:16-17). The repeated use of the word hayom in this chapter and the next chapter grounds the action in the immediate present. Reflecting on the one time the phrase hayom hazeh — this day — specifically appears in the text regarding the command to observe the mitzvot, commandments, the great medieval biblical commentator Rashi (11th-century France) quotes an earlier teaching saying that each day the mitzvot should be like new in your eyes. Said another way, an Israelite in that era was expected to relate to the commandments every day, in the same way, as that day when he was on the doorstep of Canaan, excited about reaching the end of the desert-wandering period, and in the same way as when he was offering his first fruits to God in the spirit of gratitude for being settled in the land and enjoying its fruits.
Even at the beginning of something exciting and completely new — entry into Israel, the promised land — our ancestors were reminded several times to be present in the day and moment at hand. Our experiences on a daily basis are not always going to be as awe-inspiring as seeing Israel for the first time, or as breathtaking as seeing the Alaskan glaciers for the first time. But the Torah reminds us that it is important for us to appreciate the uniqueness and newness of every moment and every day, even if those moments and days could just as easily be classified in the “ordinary” or “routine” category. Truly, is anything ever completely routine or the same?
We may feel as though we are repeating patterns and cycles of life, but the third year on a job is not the same as the first year or the first day, the experience of 11th grade is different from first grade, and the 23rd year of marriage is different from the first, or the eighth or the 12th. There is something fresh and new to be found in even our longest cycles, if we only look for it.
May this coming New Year of 5780 bring each of us countless fresh, precious and blessed moments in our lives.
Rabbi Ari Sunshine in senior rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas.