A few months ago I visited Buenos Aires, the city of my birth, and went to attend Shabbat services at the Conservative Synagogue in my parents’ neighborhood.
I arrived for Shacharit (morning) service and discovered that the Rabbi — today the father of three sweet children – was one of the class of Bar Mitzvah boys that I prepared twenty-five years ago.
Congregants and guests began to arrive in throngs to the service. That same Shabbat, two boys celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs, sons of families that I have known for years.
To my complete surprise, I recognized one out of every two people sitting in the sanctuary. I met representatives of every period of my life. Beginning with nursery school, through elementary school, high school, my first jobs as a counselor and as a student rabbi, through the first congregation for which I served as a Rabbi when I made Aliyah to Israel.
I hadn’t seen most of them for more than two decades, but quite a few looked at me and commented: “Hey Gustavo, you haven’t changed!”
At first, I took this as a compliment; on second thought I was less enthusiastic. For truth be told, to see a person after twenty, thirty or forty years and to say “You haven’t changed” isn’t much of a compliment.
At the biological level, it has been proven that we are entirely different people from whom we were seven years previously. Every cell in our body (with the exception of brain cells and, in women, the ova) completely replace themselves every seven years, proving that the body that serves us today is not the same body that we grew up in nor even the body that we had seven years ago.
We are different people than we were in the past, and not just in the biological sense.
Our jobs might change. Our friends are not necessarily the same friends we had in the past (perhaps not even the same spouses). The family grows and expands, though sometimes it contracts. Some are born and others, to our sorrow, pass away.
How can you say to someone: “You haven’t changed at all!”?
One of the greatest differences between Greek culture and Jewish culture lies in the concept of the perception of time.
The Greeks believed that time was circular, or cyclic. In contrast, Jewish tradition expresses a belief that time is linear while incorporating cyclic elements.
I feel that Rosh HaShanah successfully combines these two perceptions.
On the one hand, Rosh HaShanah, is a sterling expression of the cyclic nature of time. Every year has twelve months and we note the beginning of the new year. On the other hand, the life of a man exists on a linear plane and is not cyclic!
We live in a rapidly changing world.
Whoever holds the most advanced smartphone today will be seen in another five years as a “caveman” at best.
In today’s world, we see on a daily basis the manner in which we read books, meet and communicate with friends, and how we spend our free time change in a dramatic and startling fashion.
Yet, every year, we gather together in our synagogues, with the same melodies and the same shofar which has been blown for thousands of years. It seems to me that these days are a kind of refuge from the sea of changes, a sea in which we are tossed about and lose control over time.
Five hundred years ago, the son of the farmer, shepherd and shoemaker knew – more or less – what time would bring. For the most part, he knew what he would do most of his days.
Today, no such thing exists. This is because the world, for a child six or ten years of age, will be very different in another twenty years.
A few days ago I heard an interesting interpretation written by Chidushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter) regarding Moshe’s stay on Mount Sinai the eve of receiving the Torah.
We know that Moshe was on Mount Sinai forty days when receiving the Tablets for the first time. This is clear. He had to learn the Torah, to raise questions and reservations and delve into points that were less clear.
But why did he do this the second time, after breaking the first Tablets?
The Chidushei HaRim says: “Because he was a new person!”
A few weeks had passed since he learned the Torah for the first time, but man changes daily. The Torah that we studied two days ago will never seem to be the same Torah that we will study tomorrow.
Rosh HaShanah greets us every year with a familiar face.
We know, more or less, what to expect during the next ten days in the sanctuary.
If there are changes, they will be minor ones.
Nonetheless, we enter these days as new creations, with new challenges, new expectations, new tests and new opportunities.
Because the truth is, even when we say, “Hey, you haven’t changed!” we know that it is only a cliché. We have changed, all of us, without exception.
May we all have a good and blessed year, may we be granted life, the blessing of peace, prosperity and may we see the fruits of our labor.