02 September 2022
I was grateful to celebrate another birthday this past week. While everyone acknowledges theirs in distinct ways, my late August birthday has typically been marked by thought and introspection. I have always associated birthdays with transition and change, perhaps because mine occurred as the summer ended and school began, or because I was married just weeks after my 30th birthday, or because my oldest was born only days before my 31st. I imagine my perspective is also shaped by being born squarely in the Hebrew month of Elul, a time of teshuva – repentance or returning – as we move towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
As I have gotten older, these moments of return, change, and introspection have been central to the weeks before and after my birthday, and I have increasingly grown to appreciate them. I have found it particularly useful to use this time to review and assess the past year and my current state. Lately, I have been rereading Rabbi Alan Lew’s This Is Real and You are Completely Unprepared and focusing on his description of the “Journey of Transformation” before and during the days of awe.
I was particularly struck by Rabbi Lew’s perspective on returning. Often, and especially in times of change, we seek to return to what was. This is particularly true today, when so much has been disrupted. We have realized, however, that even when we do return – to the towns where we grew up, or the offices we left two years ago – the world is no longer the same.
We are different, and so are the people around us. The context in which we live has changed and the world that held us steady, though perhaps still the same on the surface, is no longer quite as it was. The experiences that gave us stability or reassuring pathways may have lost their meaning. And yet, we must forge ahead into the known unknowns. I know that this year, as I often do, I will seek comfort in past habits and traditions. At the same time, I recognize that I must find new meanings and paths for who I am today.
Jewish tradition teaches that on special days, we can use our elevated state of mind to pray for others. And so, during this birthday season of mine and as our Jewish community prepares for a New Year, may we all return with an openness to the changes we have experienced and the new possibilities ahead of us.
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