A New Year (As New As We Make It)
Part of a yearlong series on resilience in Jewish spiritual life.
Pop the Champagne! Cue the confetti! It’s a new year! Everything’s new and fresh!
Of course it ain’t so simple – but still we hope. At new year’s, we offer intentions. We turn the page (though more and more people keep calendars without paper “pages” to “turn”). We make resolutions (even as studies suggest that most of us won’t keep them). We look ahead.
There’s something about the idea of a new year, even if mathematically it’s arbitrary, that gets our attention and invites our focus. Maybe it’s because all the new year’s talk of “new” years, new chances and new pages offers the blessing of discontinuity. Sometimes momentum steers us in wrong directions, and inertia lulls us not to change. Whatever presses a re-set button invites us to purposefully make life all it can be.
The path to resilience is partly about claiming those re-set opportunities and making them real. But resilience also wisely balances continuity with change.
This week’s resilience balancing act comes through the first interactions of Moses with God. Fittingly, this interaction, in this week’s Torah portion (Shemot), turns a page to begin the Book of Exodus.
This new chapter starts by leaping centuries forward from tribal pre-history to Egyptian bondage, but it does so in a peculiar way – by naming pre-history’s ancestors. Torah begins by naming Abraham’s descendants who became tribal leaders, then tribes, then slaves. One thing we learn is that whatever re-set button we imagine pressing, whatever this new chapter brings, we begin as who we’ve been. That’s the “continuity” part of resilience.
Now the “change” part of resilience: history isn’t destiny. Moses, Pharaoh’s once beloved adopted son who lost it all, meets God in a desert encounter at a burning bush. God deploys Moses as freedom’s spokesperson. Moses replies that he’s tongue-tied, incapable of speaking. God won’t take no for an answer. The history of who Moses is and what Moses thinks he can do isn’t his destiny: he will need to change. As for Moses, so for us.
Then the real emblem of “change”: Moses asks for God’s “name.” The answer Moses hears – ehyeh asher ehyeh, literally “I will be what I will be” (Exodus 3:14) – is the antithesis of any name, label, history or fixity. Moses learns that God is the constancy of evolution, the limitless capacity, the undying hope, the perpetual re-boot, the answer that outshines every question. This expression of God is change itself.
That’s resilience – the capacity to balance continuity and change. We begin as we’ve been, move beyond who we think we are, and open toward infinitely possibility. Every page turn, every year and every breath invites this shift of awareness.
So make this new year new not by pretending away your history but by growing from it and toward the infinite. This turn from 2017 to 2018, even if it’s just a page on a calendar or a swipe of an iPhone, invites us to see afresh the potential for transformation that is the fabric of the universe and the tapestry of Jewish life.
From all of us at The Jewish Studio, may 2018 be the year in which we all fulfill this call of spiritual resilience for ourselves, each other, and a world too often weary and stuck. Happy new year. Now pop the Champagne, celebrate, and let’s go.
Originally published at The Jewish Studio.