A serious move – Rosh HaShanah 5775

Many of you know that I moved a few short weeks ago. Anyone, who has moved, knows that relocation from one place to another isn’t easy. There are so many things to consider. What needs to be put into the packing cases, what needs to be left, to be sold, given away, or maybe stored. Before we can move, we need to write lists, we plan, make arrangements, and try and get organised.

Whenever I looked around my apartment before the move, I was shocked to see how much ….. stuff had found its way onto my shelves. There a book, I once bought because I had always wanted to read it. Here, a gift from a good friend that I had never quite found the right spot for. And so many papers on my desk, papers that needed checking and sorting. There are many little keepsakes and souvenirs all over my shelves, reminders of the many wonderful moments in my life.

Like most people, I love my things. But the only problem with that is, I have so many of them. Clearing out is not an easy task: photo albums, children’s drawings, pictures, cups, clothing, CD’s … All important in their own way, each full of sentimental value. But, to be honest, do we need them all? Did I need them all?

Not everything, we possess needs to move with us from one place to another, not every book nor every photograph. It might hurt, but clearing out is one of the most fundamental tasks before moving.
I thought I would be upset with the process, but if I am honest, I was actually very happy to embark on the exercise, because I actually rediscovered some forgotten treasures. Cleaning up my home with a vision of coming here forced to remember some important moments in my life, ones I had nearly forgotten. I found bits and pieces, momentous that reminded me of some of these special and important moments in my life that brought me to where, and what I am today.

I also found some other things, things that should have been dealt with or which reminded me of some of the less wonderful times in my life. It made me realise that moving can be an emotional roller coaster.
I am sharing this with you, because I think that the High Holidays are similar to a physical ‘move’ for all of us. We move from one year to another, from the old year to the new one. And we need to think about, what we are going to carry with us into the New Year. This “move” should be taken as serious as any other move, and it, too, needs some preparation. The 10 days in-between the beginning of Rosh HaShanah (tonight), and the end of Yom Kippur give us the time we need for this very purpose. And our Jewish tradition provides us with the necessary tools to deal with it, and to master it.

The “shelves”, we need to look at, and to work on, are the ones in ourselves. Like in the apartment, I moved from, we add many ‘things’ to the shelves in our hearts and souls. Often we even don’t realise, how full they have become. Almost unconsciously, we clutter them up, until there is literally no space left.

It could have been an argument with someone in the family, which has taken up a lot of space in our lives; a conflict with a neighbour that weighs heavily on our shoulders; the deep mourning for someone, we loved and lost. All these ‘things’ bear down our souls. Sometimes we cling to old memories so strongly that we cannot appreciate new things and moments in our lives.

It is our tradition that teaches us to look into our hearts during the period of the High Holidays. Now is the time for us to make “moving arrangements”, before we can really enter the New Year. Piece by piece, we should be taking everything into account, doing a “kosher”-check on everything, what has been a part of our life, and we need to decide if we want to continue on with certain things as usual, or whether we want to make changes and adjustments.

It is common to end things, before a move. We need to cancel our electricity or the telephone contract, the water supply, stop the delivery of newspapers. We need to say goodbye to our neighbours, to dear friends and to relatives. The same applies before we can continue our journey into the next year. There are some things that belong to the old year, and should not be taken into the new one. No doubt. It is also time to solve disputes, and conflicts. It is time to find a new place for some of our memories, memories that have a dear place in our inner shelves, maybe even a little bit deeper in our hearts, so that we can make space for new experiences to come. Now is the best time to sort things out, to move out of our comfort zone, from that ‘safe place’ that kept us where we were. Let’s use the next couple of days to apologise, and say sorry to those we might have hurt, and ask forgiveness from them. Let’s use this time to sort out issues with family members, friends, congregants, neigbours, colleagues, and with ourselves. This all will help us to create new, and more space in our hearts and souls.

If we undertake the moving process properly, we will actually be taking every little thing into account – every single paper in every single folder or drawer. During the High Holidays, we should be looking at, the personal decisions we have made, and our values:
– Am I still myself?
– Is my daily routine still what I want?
– Why am I doing things the way I am doing them?
– What do I have faith in?
– What are the things or people I trust?
– How is my relationship with others?
– How is my relationship with God?
– What can I do to become a better person?

I am aware that it is not easy to answer all these questions, and there might be even more difficult ones that need to be answered. I understand that it is much easier to stick to old habits, to stay in our comfort zone and avoid the process of self-reflection.

“I am just taking this folder with old documents to my new place, and I will check its content later, when I will have more time.” – Sound familiar? The intention is clear. We want to take a shortcut around something we don’t like, but moving is the best time to clear out the old ‘stuff’ that keeps us stagnant. The High Holidays contain the best chance to do a check on ourselves, which will lead us ultimately to Teshuvah.

Free will, embedded in every human being as a special gift from God, comes with huge responsibility. We can only comply with our responsibility, if we keep on checking the “shelves” in ourselves, and not postpone this self-investigation continuously. It is the same with life – we cannot continue on our path without looking left or right … because it is easier for us. Every single step, we take in our life, and every action we take has consequences, and we should be aware of them. We should also be sure and confident with the choices we have made. If we are not of the choices we have made, we need to change something. But we can only assess that after introspection and self-evaluation.

We can compare our lives to the ladder in Jacob’s dream (1 Moses 28.12):

“He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”

I believe that everyone, like the angels in Jacob’s dream, has the same chance to – metaphorically – ascend or descend these stairs, getting closer or distancing themselves from God. We can try and take two steps at a time, or we can anxiously stop in the middle of a step. We can rest – feeling satisfied with ourselves – somewhere on the top, or we can even fall down the ladder. Each direction is possible, but no matter, which step we take, it is going to have an impact on our relationship with our fellow human beings, on ourselves, and on our relationship with God.

Today, and during the next 10 days, we should find out our position on the ladder. If we find ourselves moving in the wrong direction, we should attempt to go back to a better starting point, back to God, and make Teshuvah.

But we need to remember that this walk through the path of our soul and heart is not a simple one. Getting rid of established habits (good or bad) can be a demanding and burdensome task. Realising the things that actually matter, acknowledging the things that shape us, putting our lives in order, and giving account of our deeds to God, can be a painful undertaking. But this action is the determining character of the High Holidays.

At the end, this “move” into the New Year will be good for our souls, and do us good. The spaces we are creating during these days in the shelves of our souls and hearts are going to be needed for the many new tasks, experiences, and events awaiting us.
Like any other move, the one into the New Year, creates new chances and possibilities for every one of us. Perhaps the start won’t be that easy, perhaps it will hold some surprises, we don’t expect – or even like – but I sincerely hope every one of us will be able to adjust themselves to the new things, the challenges, that await us. If we have completed the preparations properly, and the move itself in a good, and serious manner, if we can resolve some of our problems of the past, and change some of the things that went wrong, if we keep on being honest with ourselves, and our fellow men, than – I truly believe – this move will be a smooth, a good one.

Shanah Tovah u metukah – Gamar chatimah tovah.

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