TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF IN THE BOOK OF OUR LIVES
There are many ways of interpreting the word which is the theme of this issue of Open Door: ‘Leaves’. I would like to invite you to reflect on ‘leaves’ as in the ‘leaves of a book’ – but not just any book: the book of our lives.
Throughout the High Holy Day period, we sing the plaintive refrain, which reflects the image of God writing down our deeds in a book – and expresses the fervent hope that we will be inscribed in ‘the Book of Life’: Zochreinu la-chayyim, Melech chafeitz ba-chayyim, v’chotveinu be’sefer ha-chayyim, l’ma’an’cha Elohim chayyim. ‘Remember us for life, for you, O Sovereign, delight in life; and inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, O God of life.’
However, although the emphasis during the yamim nora’im, literally, the ‘awed days’, is on God as a supreme Sovereign passing judgement on our lives, and recording our deeds, in reality, we are the ones doing the writing. The 11th century Spanish Jewish philosopher, Bachya ibn Pakuda, wrote, ‘Days are scrolls; write on them only what you wish to be remembered’ (Duties of the Heart).
In these days of personal computers and smart phones, very few of us still experience the sensation of sitting, pen in hand, a blank sheet of paper in front of us – even school pupils are more likely to type on a screen than to write on a piece of paper. But, of course, ibn Pakuda was speaking metaphorically; whatever the technology we employ to communicate, we are, ultimately, responsible for our actions. It is up to us to decide what to do – and what not to do; what to say – and what not to say.
In the month preceding Rosh Ha-Shanah, the month of Elul, and during the ten days, which begin on the first day of the seventh month, and end as the sun sets on Yom Kippur, we have the opportunity to take the book of our lives in our hands, to read what we have written so far, and to consider, as we look at the blank leaves beyond, what we are going to write in the next chapter. Of course, the future is not certain and we are bound to be overtaken by events we cannot predict, which are beyond our control. Nevertheless, on the basis of how we have lived up to this point, we can make decisions about how we will live from this day onwards. We can decide to break old habits. We can make different choices and explore new pathways.
As the season turns, and the leaves fall from the trees, may each one of us find the courage, to turn over a new leaf in the book of our lives, and begin a fresh chapter. But that’s not all. As we say goodbye to 26 Farm Road, and begin the process of rebuilding 6 Lansdowne Road, may we also resolve to participate in the writing of a new chapter in the life of our congregation.
Shanah Tovah! May the year that lies ahead be a time of renewal for each one of us, for our loved ones, for our synagogue, for the Jewish people, and for all the peoples of the Earth.
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah