By Hazzan Ben Tisser
The older I get, the more I realize just how quickly time moves forward, seemingly without mercy. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago we were celebrating Simchat Torah and now are off and running in the programming year. It’s strange how quickly we (a staff and a community) are able to switch gears and move from one head space to the next, from the grandeur of the High Holy Days to the excitement of all the wonderful classes and programs which now require our attention. But, as the French say, c’est la vie—such is life!
And it really is that way. This week I celebrated a special birthday. True, any birthday we merit to celebrate is special, but this one has special significance for me. I turned 36, which as many of you know is “double chai.” For most people on the planet, the age of 36 signifies perhaps nothing more than being mathematically closer to 40 than to 30, but for us Jews there is deeper meaning to be found.
Chayim, the Hebrew word for life, is always written in the plural. Even when we will read in the Torah about the “lifetime of Sarah” (Chayei Sarah), we read this in plural form. I find that very interesting, and as one who enjoys playing with language I am drawn to attempt to understand why this might be. After much reflection (Chayei Sarah was my Bar Mitzvah Parasha, and this interesting use of plural about a single woman was one of the first things I noticed. So I suppose one could say I have been pondering this for 23 years!), I have come up with the following.
We all go through many distinct periods in our lives. There are, often, very clear “divisions” in our lives, and frequently these “divisions” are manifest in the way we live — a time we DEFINITELY changed a habit; a time we changed our level of religious observance; a time we changed the way we dress or the music we enjoy; and certainly there are moments in our life cycle such as becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, getting married or divorced, beginning or ending a job, etc., which define these distinct sections.
In my own journey, this year is very significant—I have treated it like a starting-over point in many ways. I have made strong commitments to myself about the way I wish to live. I have adopted (hopefully) healthier habits around eating, I have decided to take up some activities which promote mental, spiritual and physical health, and I have committed to reading more for my own pleasure and personal growth. Oh yes — and in this, my double-chai year, I will begin a very significant new chapter in my life as I marry my incredible life partner, Robyn, who is my greatest support in all of these efforts. I have also committed myself to professional growth, working to grow my skills as a pastor, as a singer, and as a professional.
Like Avram in this week’s Parasha, Lech Lecha, I don’t know where the journey will take me. But I felt an internal alarm wake me up and push me down a path of growth, of new experiences, and to do so with an open mind and an open heart. Avram, like Noah in last week’s Sidra, doesn’t answer God’s call with words. He simply acts. He does as he is told. The biblical narrative doesn’t give us any insight into his thought process, conversations with his wife, or questions to God. In my mind, Avram simply understands that a fantastic opportunity lies ahead and knows that he had best take advantage of it. On his journey we see his growth as a leader, a husband, a father, and a servant of God. He is not perfect, but he does well, and the lessons he teaches us about the journey of life are truly timeless.
I pray that we all take the opportunity throughout our lives to make conscious decisions about beginning new chapters, trying new things, and continuing to grow into our best selves. I pray that we not only seek these opportunities, but recognize them when they come our way. And I pray that with each new chapter of our lives we recommit to our obligations to our faith, to God, and to making the world just a little bit better, Ish K’matnat Yado, each of us according to the unique gifts with which God has endowed us. Time moves mercilessly forward, and yet if we are able to recognize and take advantage of each moment we are gifted, we are sure to live lives of deep meaning and of purpose.
See you in shul.