Shalom & Happy New Year! The past year has been such a blur in many ways, and each of us has felt tested as we make adjustments and lean into a changed world amidst a pandemic. In every aspect of our lives — work, entertainment, prayer, dining out – we’ve made adjustments. And, no, we can’t run away from the numbers — the continuing mortality and infection rate around the country is sobering. We’ll be processing the loss and grief for a long time.
Do our ancient teachers have wisdom that speaks to this fraught time for us? They certainly do. I’ll start with a teaching from Hillel (Born: 110 BCE,
Babylon, Died: 10CE, Jerusalem) — If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? Each of us must learn to advocate for what we need, for what our interests are.
If I’m only focused upon myself, then what am I? Clearly, there’s a balance between me-me-me and a larger social context: how do I respond to the needs of others, to people beyond my circle or tribe or friend group, to the larger community? And if not now, when?
This phrase helps us focus on the urgency of it all. In our own country, beyond the disruption caused by the pandemic, there are a host of deep-seated challenges with regard to poverty, education, the environment, the general health of our machinery of government— the cup runneth over! And the issues are daunting. They call for serious attention. Now.
One more teacher, Rabbi Tarfon (approximately 70-135 CE). Among his teachings: It’s not up to you to complete the task; neither are you free to desist from it. We all know that the world’s challenges are overwhelming, but we have an ethical obligation to care and to do.
These teachings are part of our Jewish as well as American identity. May we rise to the tests — and the opportunities !! — of 2021 and may healing and reconciliation be a part of the new year.