Earlier today, Jocelyn asked me, “What day is this”? She suffers from “Groundhog Day Syndrome” in which one day looks and feels like the one before. It is a common malady at this time – I’m sure many of you have been affected by it as well. It is a prolonged stasis resulting from extended pandemic travel restrictions, too much time spent in front of the computer and mindlessly surfing Netflix for something to binge. For Jocelyn, 24/7 exposure to her husband is surely a contributing factor too, I fear.
So much the better that soon we will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, a time of promise, renewal and change. In a 2018 article written by Mitchell First, the author of the fascinating book Roots and Rituals, he discusses whether the Hebrew root, SH-N-H, which serves as the basis for Rosh Hashanah, means “change” or “repeat”. He concludes that these two meanings, and a later, post-Biblical interpretation that says that SH-N-H means, “study” or “teach”, may all originate from two separate verbal roots that at some point coalesced and that the Hebrew word, shanah, may in fact be related to both definitions! Phew…
Mitchell First then goes on to make this homiletical point: “Every time something is repeated, there is always a slight change. For example, when the earth rotates around the sun, the exact position the earth travels in its rotation is not the same as the position it travelled the year before.”
Whether it be the inexorable march of the days or the successive flow of the years, the Hebrew language and our Jewish Tradition both suggest that it is possible for us, even when having to do the same thing continuously, to bring to it a fresh, new perspective. No two days need be the same, nor must every year follow the same path as the prior one. The power to change resides within us. We can adjust our circumstances or, when that is not possible, the way in which we choose to regard them.
COVID-19 continues to threaten us and to challenge our resilience. But if we fear that we have lost sight of the horizon, if we feel run down, we should remember that Rosh Hashanah is near and brings with it the timeless message: “We can change.” Even if made to repeat something interminably, the repetition is never exactly the same as the original. We are, as ever, the author of this year’s “Book of Life”.
-- Rabbi Gary Robuck is an educator with Gesher Educational Services, living in Sydney.