September 13, 2015

In my home, there’s one refrain I often hear. Whenever I turn off the television while my son is watching, he invariably says, “No, Mom, this is my favorite part.” I must have an uncanny talent – of knowing exactly what his favorite segment is of every program because no matter when I turn off the television, it’s his favorite part.

I thought of this refrain recently. This past week, my kids returned to school, and they were very upset that summer was over.  It’s as though they’re crying out, “Don’t stop summer. It’s our favorite part of the year.” I share their sentiment. As beach and water park outings give way to homework and routine, how can we not be heavy-hearted?

I feel similarly about the coming of fall as about the passage of years. As my kids grow, they shed their past passions and adopt new ones which leaves me missing the prior stages. My son started middle school this week; I remember fondly when he was in preschool and madly in love with his big Elmo doll. I remember when my daughter screamed, “Stop the Car” when she saw a Hello Kitty store – but now she considers Hello Kitty babyish. In my heart, I feel like screaming: “Don’t stop loving Elmo; that was my favorite part!”

As we approach the new school year, the people in this past week’s Torah portion are also facing a big transition. After forty years in the desert, they are about to enter the Promised Land. In anticipation, Moses summoned all the people together to reaffirm their covenant with God.

When the people were assembled, Moses said:

You stand today, all of you before God – your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, and your stranger who is in your camp, from the woodchopper to the water drawer to enter the covenant of the Lord, your God, and into God’s oath, which the Lord your God makes with you today –that God may establish you today for God as a people, and be your God, as God promised you and swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

In this passage, two words strike me. The first is the Hebrew word kulchem, which means “all of you.” This word emphasizes that the entire community gathered before God, yet this idea can also apply to each person. To truly enter the covenant, “all of you” needs to be present – mind, body, heart and soul. The other phrase is “today.” In this one paragraph, the word “today” repeats three times. Together, these words challenge us to be fully present each day.

This verse’s emphasis on “today” hints at an imperative to let go of yesterday. In her new book, Thresholds, Rabbi Sherre Hirsch includes this quote of unknown origin: “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”

Indeed, nostalgia for the past can mar the enjoyment of the present. If I dwell on the sadness that my kids are not small anymore, I might overlook the joys of their developing new skills. If we long too much for summer, we may miss whatever joy can be found this fall.

How fitting then that this Torah portion is the last one that is read before Rosh Hashanah. This verse strikes me as both a goal and a prayer. In this coming year, may we stand, all of us, in each day. Rather than pining for the past, may we embrace the present – and hopefully find some new favorite parts along the way.

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