By Joshua Yudkin
The famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, “The only thing constant is change.” Recently, we celebrated the beginning of the Jewish year 5784 and this week we celebrate Simchat Torah, when we begin another cycle of Torah reading. While the calendar (and associated activities) does not change year after year, how we experience them does.
We all may be familiar with the Hebrew word “shanah” for year, but we may not be aware that the shoresh, or root of the word, is the same as the Hebrew word for “change.” In life, we are often aware that change is coming. We may be expecting a child, bar or bat mitzvah or wedding. We may be expecting to move to a new school, a new job or a new city. Yet, sometimes change also catches us by surprise. As we have seen generation after generation, there are unexpected births, illnesses and deaths. There are unexpected changes in personal relationships and employment. In summary, change is inevitable: It is the rule, not the exception.
Interpersonally, we have just completed the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, 10 Days of Repentance, where we have been reflective, asked forgiveness and identified ways to grow as individuals and a community as we enter 5784. We know that growth is a dynamic journey and not a destination — the destination changes as we change. In fact, in the Shabbat tractate of the Talmud, there is a powerful discussion about the importance of engaging in teshuvah throughout the entire calendar year, not just the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rabbi Eliezer instructs us to repent one day before our death and when his disciple asks how we know when we will die, Rabbi Eliezer replies, “All the more reason he should repent today, lest he die tomorrow.” In other words, this self-reflective process of teshuvah is not exclusive to this time of year; it is an ongoing and constant process of growth and change throughout the entire year.
Ritualistically, we will reread the same Torah portions that we have read year after year. Yet, depending on our lived and current experiences, our understanding and engagement with these texts will change. Jewish tradition teaches that there are 70 faces to the Torah with countless hidushim, or literally new approaches, to our sacred text. In fact, the Torah is often described as Torat haim, a living Torah, because it contains all knowledge — and it is up to us to engage and reengage and discover the knowledge embedded within.
Our life and days are filled with routines and repetitive cycles — be it driving carpool, performing surgery or weekly Shabbat dinner with family and friends. From daily ritualistic practices like prayer to annual actions like lighting Hanukkah candles, Judaism is filled with textual and behavioral prompts to ignite change and grow through bringing kavanah, or intention, to our routine.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” To where will we be traveling this year? Echoing words of our tradition, what changes can we make so that we will walk [just a little more] in G-d’s way?
Dr. Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and works at the intersection of community building and public health.