A great rabbi once compared the start of a new year to a child being given a blank piece of white paper. As he explained… the possibilities are endless. The child could create anything…anything at all. It was just up to the child’s imagination.
The same is true for all of us. Each Rosh Hashanah, we are provided an opportunity to not only look back on the year that was, but imagine what the next year could bring. Or, more specifically, how will we be in the year to come? Will we continue as we are, or will we try to be just a little bit better… give a little bit more time and care to the world around us? Only we have the power to make these decisions. While it may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, our tradition provides us a roadmap… THE ultimate guide, the Torah, to help us on this journey.
For some of us, this might feel very overwhelming, because, after all… it’s THE TORAH! Filled with our history, teachings, as well as things we are commanded to do (or not do), the language and the messages of the Torah can be hard to follow or even feel not applicable to life today.
If this is the case, or even if it is not, rather than turn away from it because it may seem unwieldy or too hard, remember the ancient proverb that says that the only successful way to eat an elephant is to take small bites. Plus, I want to share an incredible resource that was shared with me in one of my classes when I was an undergrad at Cal State Northridge.
As a Religious Studies major, I took many different religion classes, including a class on Taoism. And it was in this class that I was introduced to what has since become my all-time favorite book. No… it was not Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching or even The Tao of Pooh (which, for the record, was not part of the curriculum.) It actually was a little book written by Noah benShea entitled Jacob the Baker.
The book follows the story of Jacob, an unknown baker, who gets up each morning before dawn to light the ovens of the bakery he works in. While he waits for the first dough to begin rising, he writes notes to himself of thoughts and observations on little scraps of paper. One of these notes falls into a loaf of bread and leads to the entire town seeking out his wisdom and advice on life. Within these pages are a collection of parables and brief stories that, if contemplated, thought about, and considered, can provide the reader with insight and perspective to help them live life in a similar path laid out in the Torah.
My suggestion is that each of us finds a way in the coming year to do what we can to learn from this past year and decide how we want to be in the year to come. Remember…our year ahead is a blank canvas and we get a chance to fill it with the images and experiences we want. Make it a great one so that when you look back at this time next year you can feel proud of the “picture” you created.
L’shana Tovah Um’tukah! (May you have a sweet and good new year!) Here’s to 5782 being a year filled with only sweetness, happiness, and good health for all of us.
Jason Moss is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.