December 30, 2021
Early in my career, when I was still a classroom teacher, there were two Torah portions that generated similar angst and frustrations by many of my students. The first was parashah B’reisheet (Genesis) and the second was this week’s parshah, Va’era. Why? Because to the discerning elementary and middle school student, the idea that an omnipotent Gd needed (as in B’reisheet) to take seven days to create the world seemed completely illogical and unnecessary. Similarly, in this week’s parshah, Va’era, why Gd would need 10 plagues (seven of which occur in this week’s reading) to free the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt made little sense to the adolescent teen. Then again, many adults have shared with me their same angst.
As our great sages explained, it was not that Gd [insert air quotes] needed seven days to create the world, rather, the extended time was to reinforce the message that the Torah is our guide in understanding how to live our lives today.
The Torah is both a book of our master story as well as a manual. It is for this reason that we return to it every year and reread its contents. Remembering the history is critical, and while the stories of the Torah remain the same, we ourselves change year to year and must use this manual to help remind us of the critical lessons to be learned.
Why then, does Gd highlight the extra time needed to accomplish the tasks? Because change takes time. And why does an exit from Egypt take longer than the creation of the world? Because the change in human nature is gradual and incremental, possibly even more so than creating the world!
Tomorrow we will be celebrating New Year’s Eve. We will transition from 2021 to 2022 when many of us will commit to a new year’s resolution that will seemingly change our lives with one verbal pledge. Somehow just saying we will start to work out, eat healthier, be more organized, quit smoking, travel more, or pursue any of the other multitudes of resolutions because we say so, is simply not how change happens. Even Gd, who has the ability to create by simply saying so, does not create change by simply saying so.
Change occurs over time.
Change is messy.
Change requires dedication.
Change needs the support of others.
Change necessitates a vision to work toward.
Change is incremental.
Change doesn’t always happen the way we plan it. And,
Change sometimes needs you to take a step back in order to take two steps forward.
2021 was supposed to be different. It didn’t unfold as we had planned a year ago. We thought, maybe wished, that we would be in a post-COVID world, enjoying our time together unfettered of masks and social distancing. But, as the infamous Yiddish phrase so eloquently states, “mentsch tracht un Gtt lacht” (people plan and Gd laughs). So, let us join Gd in taking a break to laugh together this weekend. Let us celebrate the beginning of a year of unlimited possibility, a year that we pray will bring joy, happiness, and health, and a year that will change for the positive to once again unite us for shared experiences so we can be…
Shabbat shalom and Happy New Year!