I was recently in Scandinavia, passing from country to country without any passport control. At first, it seemed so strange not having to stop and identify myself with an authorized identity card, but the wisdom of fluid movement prevailed. The smooth transition across borders of trusted neighbours made total sense and eased the tensions of travel.
Transitions are points of exchange or conversion, borderlands wherein we can move into new territories with calm acceptance or stressful toleration. We cannot maintain a status quo. To live is to be in flux, to live with the element of transitions. Our only control or choices are our reactions to those transitional moments. Sometimes we do best to ignore them, as with the no passport rule. Make life simple and avoid stumbling blocks.
(Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could travel to the United States without a passport? Wait! We used to do that when life was simpler and neighbourly. What does it mean that we can no longer live that way? What has happened to our society, to our friends?)
But in truth, some transitions require steps and recognition. We would lose a great deal if we did not mark key transitional moments in our lives, such as births or marriages. Proof of our needs in this ritual arena is the increase in ceremonies for girls’ bat mitzvahs and birth rituals. It is not a matter of simple ritual competition, but of momentous connections in a lifetime that require recognition.
If we can claim these requisite elements for individual or family experiences, how much more so for communal understanding, appreciation and involvement. How does a community or a nation express and experience its own history of transitions? How do we, as Jews, go through the year as individuals linked to a people?
Some of us pray, day by day. Some of us do acts of charity or kindness, or find other patterns that enable us to label ourselves Jews. But as a group, we mark two critical gates of transition wherein we show our passports, two New Year’s: Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Each one comes with its own brand of “passport control” of ritual to ease us through this transition, to guide us into the newness of the time and create vehicles of symbolism that meaningfully embrace the newness and help us accept life under these circumstances.
What does Rosh Hashanah bring?
This year, as with every year, thousands of rabbis will give sermons about the importance and meaning of the holiday. Layer upon layer of significance and value will be explored and developed. Books, columns and articles will be written. We add and interpret. We read text and tell stories, ancient and recent. We eat symbolic foods and remember the past. Our past is sacred and we hold on to it at this moment.
We are ever-evolving. But at its essence, on this holiday, we accept newness itself. We accept that the facts of our existence, our creation, need acknowledgment and celebration.
With all its history and our gloried past, this is a holiday about the fresh start we are given. The world was created and is recreated every day, every year. There is hope for renewal, for regeneration, for forgiveness. We are not stuck in the past, in a cycle of recycling tales or history. There is a new beginning here, every year. We need this opportunity to take a moment (OK, so it’s a long moment!) to reflect on the opportunity we are given to recalibrate. Don’t walk so quickly through the gates to the next country. Here you need to stop at passport control and examine your credentials in front of an expert, with some external standards in mind. This is it. Our chance to recreate our lives, rewrite our texts and become what we want to be: good people living good lives.
Sounds like a good transition. Go for it!