A Time for New Beginnings

Leaving “pediatric” religion behind

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

The Jewish calendar cycle is a fascinating one. It leaves little time for relaxation. The community has just finished the powerful High Holiday experience, and a mere five days after Yom Kippur, we are focused on a week-long festival of Sukkot, which points us to our relationship with nature and reminds us, as we dwell in temporary “booths,” of the fragility of life itself. The festival ends with a celebration of the Torah and is marked by the fact that we begin to read the scroll again.

Every year we do this. We end Deuteronomy and immediately begin with the story of creation in Genesis.

There is great symbolism in this for our generation. This ritual tells us, quite literally, that we grow every year. We are never the same person from one year to the next, and the possibility to learn or experience something new is always present. In fact, to be fully engaged as human beings, we must be open to the experience of the new. We read the same stories every year, but more often than not, we look at them a little differently. No doubt something has happened in the past year that has changed us. We are, in a sense, recreated, and see with different eyes. It is empowering to consider that an entire religious tradition gives us permission to recreate ourselves every year and encourages us to change and grow and search.

This idea of searching for the new seems to be growing more powerful. In recent years, as I have been doing workshops and programs for my work, I have encountered increasing numbers of baby boomers who seem to be unsettled in their own spiritual skin. They are seeking some sense of purpose, some redefinition of what it means to be a member of a religious community. They wonder, increasingly, what all of that means. Of course, “the search” is a classic religious motif. That makes it all the more important when we realize that this idea of, at a certain age, a growing need to explore new ideas and new types of religious expression is characteristic of so many classic figures. Indeed, one can make the argument that from doubt can spring a new type of spiritual strength, a more adult or mature spirituality that speaks to the needs and contingencies of modern life. There is a time to put “pediatric” religion aside. That time, it seems, is now.

And what, in this season of renewed creation, are we searching for? A good insight into that can be gleaned from a wonderful essay by Rabbi Jack Bemporad in a collection of articles drawn from the journal Parabola. Rabbi Bemporad edited this collection in a book called The Inner Journey. In the essay, Bemporad notes that people are in search of reassurance that life will be secure and recognition that our life has meaning and a sense of connectedness, not only to other people, but also to some transcendent mystery.

Reassurance, recognition, and connectedness seem to be three good points to focus our own sense of search.

The temporal and fragile nature of all of this is also symbolized by the sukkah. These symbols remind us that our search for redefinition or change or growth may not be easy and may have to encounter storms of doubt and winds of uncertainty. Yet, do we really have a choice? Nothing stays the same; everything does change.

One of the great messages of this season for the Jewish community (a message often ignored, by the way) is that we are all part of a continuous, ever-changing cycle. To not change is to die, and that is a grievous sin. The death of one’s spirit or soul is a tragic thing to behold. We are given the gift of growth and the freedom to search for our own definition of the sacred in our life. This is very exciting and empowering on the one hand—and frightening and challenging on the other. I hope to continue to explore some of this tension in upcoming articles.

In the meantime, shalom.