Rabbi Reflection: Going a Step Beyond Our Comfort Zone

By Rabbi Levi Volovik

Welcome to a new year. The past month of Tishri, with its High Holy Days, brought with it a wide range of emotions, carefully packaged in 30 glorious days. Like a ride on a roller coaster, we soared upward and around, reaching greater heights. We went from soul-searching introspection to resolve, from the solemnity and awe-inspiring days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to the joyful days of Sukkot and the ecstatic dancing of Simchat Torah.

We experienced the full gamut of expression of body and soul through our prayers, hearing the stirring sounds of the shofar, and through the joy in fulfilling the mitzvot of sukkah, etrog, and lulav.  And as we leave the month and enter the new month of MarCheshvan, which has no holidays of its own, we are off on the start of a new year. 

It is our hope that we all earned a shana tovah, a good and sweet new year for ourselves, just like the good years we wished for one another. A look at the word “shana” (year) tells us that it shares the same three-lettered Hebrew root as the word “repetition.” And if the yearly cycle is repetitious, what makes it a new year? The answer is that the word “shana,” with one different vowel, also spells the word for "change." It's the personal positive change that we are going to make in our lives that will now start us off on a truly new year.

It's going a step beyond our comfort zone. It's breaking an old habit, taking on a new mitzvah, sharing an act of kindness, and the recommitment to our values and our traditions to achieve goals above and beyond the past year.

The month of Tishri is the catalyst for starting off with reinforced strength and determination, and the personal changes it will take, to make the year ahead what it should be – better, brighter, and fresher in every area of our lives. Now is the time to "unpack" our bag of inspiration, which includes Tishri's feeling of oneness with G-d, of unity with others and the joy that we garnered during the entire month, to infuse any and all spiritual lethargy with renewed energy.

Reading the recent Torah portions of the week, we are further inspired by our ancestor, Abraham, in the portion of Lech Le'cha. And always, guided by our past, we find our road map for the future. Abraham was faced with one of his many tests, having to leave the land and the home he was accustomed to for 75 years of his life and go to the place that G-d would show him. His destination uncertain, Abraham was nevertheless quick to respond to G-d's command. Abraham blazed a trail. He looked at the world, searched for the Owner and found truth. His eloquent testimony to the existence of a Creator was shared with all those he encountered, and he was dedicated to his mission of elevating humanity and bringing honor and glory to G-d's name. Despite the difficulties, Abraham complied with every request, and he passed every test with flying colors. 

Abraham's directive "to go" is still continuing through us. Inspired by his faith and motivated by his alacrity in fulfilling the wishes of the One Above and his mission in uplifting the world through lovingkindness, we, too, forge ahead toward a brighter and better world. As we resume mundane life that sometimes floods us with problems and challenges, Abraham's outlook empowers us to not simply swim with the tide, but to lift our eyes to see the ray of hope in every situation, and to know that every difficulty leads to a more purposeful, productive, and meaningful life.

The Midrash relates a rabbinic narrative that took place when Abraham set out to fulfill the most difficult of his trials, taking his beloved son, Isaac, to the altar. As he approached his destination from afar, accompanied by Isaac and his servants, he turned to his beloved Isaac and said, "My son, what do you see ahead? Do you see what I see?" And Isaac responded, "I see a magnificent, blossoming mountain, reaching the heights in its full glory and majesty." And then Abraham turned to his servants and asked the same question. "We see nothing ahead," they answered, "only wasteland, desert, and desolation." Abraham then proudly walked ahead with Isaac, who shared his vision of a promising future, leaving his pessimistic servants behind.

Although today's pundits want to tell us that the world is coming to an end in 10 years, here at Chabad of the Berkshires, we share Abraham's mission and his vision, knowing that Torah is eternal, and our existence as a people is eternal – Am Yisrael Chai!  We are thankful to our Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, for giving us the opportunity to share that vision with our special community, as do thousands of Chabad emissaries respectively around the globe.

Encouraged by the support of our many friends of Chabad, we see a beautiful path ahead, blossoming and flourishing with creativity, activity, and a Judaism that is alive and vibrant. We see a community ensuring the future for ourselves and for our children through our commitment to Torah learning and Jewish education. We see ourselves unified as one people, no matter what our background and affiliation, working together toward higher ideals and goals in life. With change in the right direction on the part of every one of us – and, indeed, everyone has room for improvement - there is no limit to what we can accomplish for our families, our people, our community, and our society at large.  

Rabbi Levi Volovik is co-director of Chabad of the Berkshires in Pittsfield.