Shabbat Shalom everyone and Chag Sameach. We have reached the end of the Torah, but more importantly we are about to start reading it all over again.
This tradition of reading the end of the Torah and then right away reading the beginning again is tremendously symbolic of the journey that is our lives. We are never finished learning and growing, and regularly throughout our lives we are faced with endings that in reality circle back around to new beginnings.
When I was growing up in Philadelphia, there was an 8-mile bike path that circled around the Schuylkill River right by the Art Museum and what was known as Boat House Row. It was a huge treat for us to load our bikes on the bike rack attached to the trunk of our Impala and head out to the bike path for a day of cycling. My Mom would bring a lunch and we would set off. My mother had a 10-speed bike, my sister had a 3-speed bike and I had a banana seat bike. Remember those?! They had no gears but looked incredibly cool. Mine had plastic streamers coming out of the handlebars and a purple glitter seat. The path was not terribly hilly, but it also was not completely flat. Because my bike lacked gears, I quickly figured out how to best ride the 8-mile loop without having to get off and walk. When I was faced with an uphill climb, it was best to start it with some momentum in order to successfully get to the top. So just before the hill, I would pedal as fast as I could on the downhill or flat portion before the grade increased to help carry me to the top.
Our bike trips remind me now of the journey that is our lives and the 40-year journey are ancestors took and are now completing in this week’s Parshah V’Zot HaBerachahs. There are times that are flat and easy and good. The wind is blowing in our hair, we can smell the leaves and feel the sun lightly kissing our backs. But sometimes there is an uphill climb. We are pumping the pedals, standing up in our seats and feeling the sweat drip down our backs. Where do we get the momentum to complete that climb? We get the momentum from the good times. We store up the energy, love, friendship, accomplishment, satisfaction and connection we feel when things are going well and use them to propel us forward when they are not. In the Torah, there were many times that God reminded us that He is the Lord who brought us out of Egypt and out of slavery. He reminded us that he protected us in the past and that there was a significant reason to celebrate. And when he reminded us, it was oftentimes when we were faced with challenges…with an uphill climb, and God’s presence was offered as momentum. As Jews, I think sometimes that we are culturally predisposed to think that good fortune is something to be suspicious of….my Mom and Grandparents used to call it a kine hora, meaning that we were tempting the Evil Eye to talk about good things or even appreciate them. But the Torah teaches that the good things should be fully experienced and savored and also used to help us through the darker times. When we lose someone we love as an example, it is the memory of the good times we shared that allows us to move through the pain. As a matter of fact, just remembering our bike trips helps me with some of the grief I still have over the loss of my mother a few years ago.
And on those bike trips, we also would stop a number of times along the way to eat our picnic and feed the ducks or run around in the grass or just sit and look at the river and the buildings that surrounded it. My mother loved to tell us to slow down. She was wonderful at appreciating the little things in life and getting true joy out of experiences like biking or fossil hunting or sketching pictures or looking for beautiful shells. She told me so many times as a child to stop and smell the roses, that I wrote a song about it when I was about 15.
Jewish comedian and singer Eddie Cantor is quoted as saying “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast, you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” That is very true to Jewish tradition and teachings. Our journey is meant to be savored and explored deeply. Sometimes when a journey is in the shape of a circle like Torah and our lives, it may be mistaken as a race. We see a circle and imagine Nascar with the throttle wide open, going fast and making lefts. That is not what our track is all about. Our circle is about going slowly, listening for truths, studying ancient wisdom, creating art and music and literature, discovering new ideas in science and philosophy, reading books, holding hands, smiling, laughing and loving. We are here to spread light, and the only way to do that is to regularly kindle and rekindle the flame. That takes time and thought, not speed.
So as we come to the end of our holiday cycle from jubilant to solemn and awesome to celebratory, we face our week and this new year of 5777 and new Torah cycle with the challenge to go deeper not faster and to take the time to begin this new journey with hope an love and faith in our hearts so we can gather the momentum that is needed to lead with our souls.