By Rabbi Mark Glickman
(AJNews) – These are busy times for people in my line of work. As the Days of Awe approach, there are sermons to be written, worship services to be planned, and volunteers galore to be recruited. Add on the daily responsibilities of rabbinic work, and you’ve got yourself some late-summer rabbinic schedules that are bursting at the seams.
And on top of it all, I have an article due for the Alberta Jewish News. What am I going to write about? There’s so much to say, so much to teach, but what topic would be best for this particular format?
I sit at my computer, open up Word, and soon I find myself looking into a field of white – a blank page, waiting for me to fill it with meaning, to transform it into a lush orchard of fruitful truths. What am I going to say? How am I going to fill this empty space? Should I be humorous or somber, personal or universal, erudite or folksy? And, whatever I do decide to say, how can I make it worthy of my readers’ time and attention?
I continue to stare at the blank screen, knowing that the minutes are ticking by until my next appointment, knowing that I’ve got to fill that page with something that really counts. And after just a short time, it occurs to me that my current quandary isn’t just a writing quandary – it’s the very essence of a Rosh Hashanah quandary, too. After all, what is the Jewish New Year if not a blank page beckoning us to add meaning.
Here on the threshold of 5764, we all stare at a blank page – the blank page of the New Year itself. How will we fill our calendars this year? How will we spend our time, and how will we make that time really count? There are lessons to be drawn, of course, from years past. How will we translate our previous years’ experience into next year’s truths and meaning?
In the synagogue, we read “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die.” Yes, it’s true that much of life is not of our own choosing – it happens to us, rather than submitting itself to our desires and choices. The results of a medical test, whether we return home safely from a journey, whether the wildfires burn in our own neighborhood or in someone else’s, none of it is subject to our own control.
“But,” our liturgy continues, “prayer, repentance, and charity can temper the severity of the decree.” Even though so much of life is out of our hands, we do control what kind of person we become. Reaching upward to God through prayer, outward to others through charity, or inward to find our best selves through repentance, we can make it so that the difficulties of life aren’t nearly as bad as they would otherwise be.
Prayer, repentance, and charity – reaching into ourselves and beyond ourselves. These are the tools we use to fill the blank page staring at us as we enter the new year.
5784 remains a blank page for us all. May we fill it with meaning, and purpose, and goodness, and all things sweet. And with a deadline approaching, we’d all do well to start thinking about how we’re going to do so for the year to come.
Shanah tovah u’metukah – I wish you a good, sweet New Year.
Rabbi Mark Glickman is the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Tikvah, Calgary’s Reform Jewish congregation.