So, we’re back.

How quickly the year flies by. There was Rosh Hashanah, quickly followed by Yom Kippur and Sukkot. And before you even realized it, you were celebrating Chanukah, and then Purim. Passover came and went in a flash, and it sure didn’t feel like a seven week gapWouldn't we be better off just standing still? from then until Shavuot. Tisha B’Av was just yesterday, but it couldn’t have been, because we’re about to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and start the cycle all over again.

Have we just been spinning our wheels, with nothing to show for our trouble? If you set off on a journey and end up back at the same place, doesn’t that show that you’ve been wasting your efforts, running around in circles? Wouldn’t we be better off just standing still?

A Spiral Staircase

The analogy of a spinning wheel is not quite accurate. Life is not a running circuit, but a spiral staircase. We’re not back at the same spot; we’re one level advanced in the cycle of life. We may be looking out at the same terrain, but our vantage point is far higher.

This year we’ve grown as individuals and developed as a community. Our year-long quest has allowed us to return home bearing gifts of incredible value. We’ve traveled the mitzvah-brick road, and our Judaism is now stronger for our struggles.

This idea of the yearly cycle of holidays as a spiral is reflected in the Torah portion we read this last week of the year—the double portion of Nitzavim and Vayelech. We start with the words, “Atem nitzavim hayom,” “You are standing today,” which the rabbis explain is a reference to the day of Rosh Hashanah. We stand before G‑d at the beginning of the year, pausing to take stock, wondering what this year willThere are no guarantees, no perfect system bring. There are no guarantees, no perfect system. All we know is that we must keep traveling—an idea reflected in the title of the next portion, Vayelech, which literally means, “and he [Moses] went.”

Staying stationary is not an option. We must set off on our yearly cycle of growth so that when we arrive back here next Rosh Hashanah we’re not the same person we were a year ago, and our observance of Judaism is at a totally new level.

Fittingly, one of the symbolic foods we eat on Rosh Hashanah is challah that has been shaped into a spiral. Flat at the edges, it rises into a crescendo in the middle. So too do we strive to reach ever higher in our journey forward, and to return to this point next year having reached a new pinnacle of achievement.