It’s storm season in Florida. It’s always like this in early September, although this year we haven’t had to deal with the threat of a hurricane (yet). But we’ve weathered monsoon-like rains, hurricane-strength winds, and sudden storms that whip themselves into a frenzy at a moment’s notice.
Despite their intensity, the storms are usually small and localized. I can drive 30 minutes from my home to a friend’s and pass through two distinct storms, each with blinding rain, and with bright sunshine in between.
These sudden changes are unsettling, but in this climate at this time of year, expected. And today, as I think about Rosh Hashanah about to begin, I see the Florida weather as a metaphor for life itself.
Just as there is a cycle to the ebb and flow of storms, so too our own lives. There is both a predictability to life and sudden changes that appear out of nowhere, often with little warning. A friend’s child dies. Another announces a serious illness. Another suddenly moves from one home to another, usually to a smaller one, closer to the kinds of support services that older people need.
Because the truth of our community here in Southwest Florida is that we are aging. Just this past year my congregation experienced the deaths of several beloved members. Others moved away to be near their adult children, whom they hoped will help when the vagaries of aging strike.
And in case things seem to be moving along without any hiccups in one’s life, the High Holidays come, with their reminders of our mortality, our reliance on a Divine Presence, our need for repentance. We encounter images of God as a strict Judge, a stern Sovereign, a loving Parent. We are reminded of our regrets (and our joys) from the past year and bidden to think about our hopes (and fears) for the future.
All of this can feel overwhelming. But this Shabbat, just two days before Rosh Hashanah, we read one of my favorite passages from the Torah:
Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?”
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?”
No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (Deut. 30:11-14)
What is the Instruction? To love God. To open up our hearts to love YHVH with all our heart and soul, to obey the commandments and to live life well. We don’t need to rely on anyone else to do it; we don’t need to send emissaries up to heaven or across the sea. All we have to do is be the kind of people that God demands of us.
Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t say it was easy. Being a mensch is hard work, especially when faced with the unexpected storms that inevitably blow through. That’s the challenge, and that’s the joy of being human.