On Wednesday morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah, I found myself overwhelmed with the thought that it was the start of the Jewish New Year. Soon I would be sitting in synagogue pondering transgression, judgment and forgiveness. I felt a pit in my stomach because the notion was so final. For a moment, right there in the car, I felt like I might cry. It wasn’t a big, sobby I can’t pull myself together cry but the quiet, mournful, single tear down my check cry.
The notion that another year was about to end was looming, and I wasn’t ready for it. The year 5773 had come and gone way too fast. I wished I had more time.
Then my mind wandered to another thought that time, as we think of it and know it, might not really exist. Einstein even questioned the very idea of absolute time (a universal clock). Some science has even suggested that time is relative to gravity and other forces of the universe, and what we think of as "time" is really a matter of perception and relativity. At least this is what I gathered from reading his biography over the summer.
Though the actual existence of time is in question, what I have found to be real is the moment. We can't change the past because it has already happened. We can't impact the future directly because the future has not happened yet. The only thing we can change is the present. The very moment that is pressing up against us right now is the only one that we can influence.
This put me at peace for the rest of the day, until I found myself at services in the evening. One of the first prayers in the machzor (High Holiday prayer book) used the name Yom HaZikaron. It means the “Day of Remembrance” because we have a lot to remember on the day, looking back on the previous year. The name put me at unease all over again because I wondered if I might be forgotten. I had the horrible feeling that I might not have done anything memorable this past year, and what if God forgot me? Is that even possible?
My answer came in thinking through the word Teshuvah. It is often translated as “repentance” but it comes from the Hebrew word for “return.” I was beginning to discover that, for me, Rosh Hashanah was not about an accounting of my deeds from the previous year – the court trial metaphor that I had heard in Hebrew school years ago. It was about remembering to return to living in the moment.
You see, the Torah teaches us that God created the world in a moment. In fact, the Rabbis believed that Rosh Hashanah is the very moment God did this. Yes it took six days to complete the world, but each part was created the moment God uttered the words to make it so. Whether taken literally or as a metaphor, the lesson remains the same. As humans created in God’s image, we have the power to seize every moment and create.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That is why they call it the present. May you find clarity for what you desire to create most in each moment of this coming year. L’Shana Tova!