Earlier this week, a new album of Jewish music was released entitled, Tishrei: the end is the beginning. I have been obsessed with it all week. But not because the music is gorgeous (which it is!). But because of the title. The end is the beginning has somehow been the spiritual teaching I have needed to propel me through a busy and stressful week.
To lean into the infinite, spiral-nature of time. To lean into the practice of teshuva, returning anew to the place we once were, eager to begin again.
The image brought me back to my happy place. A salt marsh at the very edge of Cape Cod, along the protected National Seashore.
Every summer my family makes the trip to this remote point. We love to go there about one hour before high tide. To roll down the sand dunes and plop into the warm, salty water, letting the current carry us away. Until it doesn't. Until it reaches that magic time just on the other side of high tide, when the tide begins to turn. And you can for a brief moment float, still, in the water, and literally see and feel the currents changing. It only lasts about 20-30 minutes. Until you are suddenly carried the other way, inward.
So too with yesterday's equinox. For a brief moment the Earth was tilting neither toward or away from the sun, and there was equilibrium between day and night. But before we can even bless the balance, we can feel the waning light. The end is the beginning.
As we approach the final days of 5782 and the final parshiyot of the Book of Deuteronomy, we are called to be present, to bear witness. To honor that which is everlasting (Holiness and the Holy One). And the reality that everything else is changing - the tides, the seasons, our own soul.
For the past month, Rabbi Mó and I have been teaching Hilchot Teshuva every morning. Yesterday we concluded the second chapter of the Rambam's teachings. And today we gathered to celebrate and glean all we had studied. But I couldn't help myself. I decided to close with the very first line of the third chapter. Because the end of one chapter is also an opportunity to begin the next.
כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מִבְּנֵי הָאָדָם יֵשׁ לוֹ זְכֻיּוֹת וַעֲוֹנוֹת. מִי שֶׁזְּכֻיּוֹתָיו יְתֵרוֹת עַל עֲוֹנוֹתָיו צַדִּיק. וּמִי שֶׁעֲוֹנוֹתָיו יְתֵרוֹת עַל זְכֻיּוֹתָיו רָשָׁע. מֶחֱצָה לְמֶחֱצָה בֵּינוֹנִי.
Every person is full of merit and every person misses the mark.
If a person has more merit, they are considered a tzadik (righteous).
And if a person has missed the mark more than they have merited, they are considered rasha (wicked).
If it's 50/50, they are benoni (in between) (Hilchot Teshuva 3:1).
The Talmud goes on to assert that basically every single one of us arrives at the gates of the New Year benoni, in between, 50/50. The scales are balanced. The tide is high. But it doesn't stop moving. What we do and say over the course of the next 10 days really matters. How we end will impact how we begin.
I offer you these words. That they may guide us through the gates of the New Year with as much humility, grace, forgiveness, kindness, and compassion as possible.
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.