The Turn Around

The High Holiday season has drawn to a close. The drama of Rosh Hashanah, the elevation of Yom Kippur, the joy of Sukkot and the dancing of Simchat Torah all passed in a frenzy. There were services, rituals, programs and oh so much food. The pace was frenetic, and at times I couldn’t wait for it to end. But now that it has ended I feel a void. The color and energy of these days are now behind me. Ahead of me yawns a long year that seems dull by comparison. It is the sweet sadness of reaching the end.

But then something changed. Just after we chanted havdalah and said goodbye to the holiday something inside me drove me to hold on to the holiday’s charm. I began to look forward and planned new classes, programs and activities. I started looking for ways to channel the energy of this wonderful month into the drudgery of the every day, and as I did, I felt the gloom lift: my heart once again skipped a beat, a warm glow reentered my soul.

The Future Awaits

“Look to your past only to take a lesson for your future.” As a child this lesson was always driven into me. The moment we chanted havdalah, the holidays slipped into the past. The choice was now ours: we could return to the dreary, work-a-day world and let the past month remain a vivid memory, or we could pour the passion and energy we had just experienced into the days ahead of us.

The key is the immediate turn around. As soon as yesterday ended we allowed tomorrow to begin. Lag time or down time allows the magic to slip away, leaving tomorrow bereft. Furthermore, allowing the magic to slip away leaves the past impotent, unable to impact or benefit the future.1

This is the message of the Torah reading on Simchat Torah. On the last day of the holiday we read the final verses of the Torah. We mark this joyous occasion with great fanfare, but we do not allow the celebrations to slow us down. The moment we finish the Torah, we turn around and begin again.

Our sages taught that the prosecuting angels complain to G‑d that Jews study the Torah, but once they have concluded their studies, they turn away. We respond to this charge on Simchat Torah by denying ourselves even a moment of lag time between concluding our study and recommencing it. Reaching the end of the Torah does not drive us to book a vacation and recover from the effort. On the contrary it drives us to make immediate use of our knowledge as we begin another cycle of study.

This is also the message of the Torah portion we read this Shabbat: Bereishit – “In the beginning.” Every moment in life is a beginning. The previous moment has slipped into the past and this moment begins anew. We do not waste time dwelling over the moments that have passed. Instead we embark on immediate beginnings, but beginnings that follow from previous conclusions. For every beginning is informed by the lessons we have learned and enhanced by the inspiration we have gleaned in the past.

Indeed, as the holidays slip into the past, and the long weeks of winter stretch out before us, we haven’t a moment to waste. We must harness the majesty and sanctity of the holidays to the work before us in the days to come. Let us begin at the beginning and let us begin at present; we cannot begin soon enough.