This week marked the end of our high and holy season, a week of new beginnings, and a week of terrible violence and stabbings and rage.
The holy days are over, the year begins: what blessings will it usher, what pain can we aspire to leave behind or at least ease, hopefully, with our best intentions? I have a single sentence, forged of our sacred circle, a poem that reminds us of our noblest hopes and truths.
This past Sunday the Lab/Shul NYC community gathered downtown and opened up a vast circle in which we unscrolled our sacred Torah scroll from start to finish, from the creation of the world to the death of its greatest prophet. Every year on Simchat Torah we do this, inviting ourselves to revisit the highlights of our story, the details of our annual journey as they ripple and echo those of our own.
We come full circle.
This time we tried a new divination tool. From each of the five books, each one a few feet long section of the open scroll, we randomly chose a word or two and strung them together to created an act of unscripted poetic art. These five selections strewn together gave us this one short poem, magic mantra, a reminder of what matters, of what heals:
רוח חיים :Spirit of Life
תחת סבלות מצרים ,From beyond the suffering of Egypt
ויחנו בני ישראל .Let the Children of Israel rest
לא תרצח .Do Not Murder
On this Shabbat we open up the scroll again and read “In the Beginning.” Eve and Adam, Cain and Abel, our humble origins begin with innocence and continue with greed and first blood.
Our commandments warn us “Do Not Murder.” Our priestly laws remind us “Purify.” Move beyond the either/or of master and slave, the paradigm of narrowness of mind and vision once known as Egypt. Find rest within. Connect again to the Spirit of Life.
I stand today, along with so many of us, in sorrow and worry, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. Jews and Arabs, children of Eve and Adam, Sarah and Hagar. There is one story, there is one pain, there is one hope.
We come again full circle.
But can we change the story? Can the circle deviate from its course and turn into a spiral? Can we sing a new song, chart a new course? I invite us all to start again, in any way we can, from the beginning. Find a way to pause, to breathe, to let go of one set of beliefs and bondage that gets us nowhere, to put aside the rage and hurt that cycles on and on again. In our private lives and public identities we are invited to open the scroll and start again. Each new year is a brand new chance to fix, and change, and heal.
Today I call upon my deepest self to go beyond the bonds and bounds of what has already happened. Today I call upon my highest self, the self that yearns for a fresh new page, to click restart and chant again with honest hope: In the Beginning.
What’s one act that each of us can do today to start a new beginning? What’s one conversation, gesture, word or intention that can signify commitment to a brave and better year?
This Shabbat I will once again be adding an extra candle on my Shabbat table, a candle for peace, and will pray these haunting and beautiful words, which are sadly just as relevant today as when they were written: The Mothers’ Prayer for Peace. Let us pray together, with intention, so that all of us can wake up to love, compassion, tolerance, and peace:
May there be peace.
May we be love.
May the circle start again, unbroken.