As a rabbi-in-training, the months of August and September (Elul/Tishrei in the Jewish calendar) are totally consumed by preparation for the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Writing sermons, practicing the traditional melodies, and figuring out how to make an ancient liturgy mean something fresh to a modern, diverse group of people, all while starting up a new school year has been pretty overwhelming, and I’ve been struggling to stay afloat.
Looking in my prayerbook for the holidays, there’s a particular prayer that’s resonating right now. The verse is:
Hashiveinu Adonai eilekha v’nashuvah, chadeish yameinu k’kedem.
Turn us toward you, God, and we will return to you;
Make our days seem fresh, as they once were. (Eicha/Lamentations 5:21)
I’ve often read this line of prayer as really nostalgic, trying to go back to an earlier time that’s way better than the one we’re in now. It’s totally hitting me hard this year, as I compare these high holidays back to last year’s and ask myself if I’m measuring up. And I’m also remembering last year’s amazing cohort of women, reminiscing about the fun we had together and the things we learned from each other, and excited to see what’s in store with this new group.
But rather than just reminiscing about the past, there’s another way to read this prayer. In the sidebar of my prayerbook (machzor), there’s a comment that reads:
“Make our days seem fresh” should not be seen as a plea for restoration of a formerly perfect condition; we were never perfect. Rather, it is a plea for resilience, a plea for the ability to renew ourselves after moments of crisis and dislocation. As Elie Wiesel remarks, “God gave Adam a secret – and that secret was not how to begin, but how to begin again.”
Oh, right. Things were never perfect. It’s so easy to romanticize the past, to long for something that used to be – but this moment we’re in now has within it so much potential. And even in this crazy, overwhelming time of new beginnings, maybe we can all dig deep in our reserves of resilience and find the strength to keep starting over again and again.
We’re all experiencing something difficult about beginnings – Kaytlin’s quote was so perfect, that all beginnings are hard. And my blessing for the new residents is that they’re able to find the ability to renew themselves amidst all of the intensity of beginnings and call upon that strength when they most need it.