It is perhaps fitting that the Jewish community will finish its annual reading of the book of Genesis just as the secular year is ending. Or maybe not; Genesis ends with the deaths of both Jacob and Joseph, on a sorrowful note that portends hundreds of years of slavery.
This year we need something more upbeat, something stirring and hopeful as we exit a year that took the planet by surprise, a year that shattered our expectations of the 21st century and a year whose very name stands for clear vision.
And yet 2020 was a year marked by murkiness and uncertainty. It felt as if we were moving in a fog. We couldn’t see the end, and didn’t know how to fight an invisible enemy that might or might not kill us. At first we were told that we didn’t need masks. Then we were told that masks are our best defense. It’s deadly; it’s not all that deadly; oh my God it’s killing us by the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands.
No wonder everyone is happy to leave 2020 behind. We enter into the new year tentatively, knowing that the enemy still lurks among us, and also knowing that the tools to protect us are here, are coming. Not fast enough, but we are beginning to see a glimmer of light.
Over the past month, I embarked on a journey through the Psalms, accompanied by a small group from my congregation. I have never begun at the beginning and worked my way through the 150 poems that are the Psalms of the Bible, and every day I find new insights into myself, the world around me, and the heart of the psalmist – sometimes crying out in pain and sorrow, often frightened, always looking to the Divine for succor.
Many of the psalms talk about enemies and evil-doers, and I think of the invisible enemy that has invaded nearly every corner of the earth, spreading illness, death, and destruction in its path.
And although as a rabbi I feel comfortable talking about the role of God in our lives, unlike the psalmist I don’t turn to God to defeat my enemies, heal my pain, or make the world a better place.
When I imagine the Divine I think about the Spark within, about the human ability to discern God in our lives, not as “other” and separate, but rather as integral to our own essence. The God within is the God that enables humans to create vaccines in record time, to dream impossible dreams and make them come true. And it is a Godliness that enables us to sing, to make music even in the darkest of times, to turn our own bodies into musical instruments that praise all that is good and true.
“At evening I fall down weeping; At morning, joyous song,” sang the psalmist (Psalm 30:6). The year before us does indeed feel like a new day after a night of tears.
May we be blessed to use this coming year for repair – repairing a world that has been torn by a pandemic and our own wastefulness; repairing a country that has been ripped apart by a deep political divide; healing a community that has been separated by self-imposed quarantine to protect ourselves and each other.
And may we always remember to sing a joyous song.
Happy New Year and Shabbat Shalom. May 2021 be better than 2020 and not as good as 2022.