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A Time to Pause

Time; we hold it for such a brief moment. It slips through our fingers like a fine thread, seeping out of our pockets quicker than money.

Time; it has so many faces and it changes life so instantaneously.

We travel from Yom Kippur to Simchat Torah in a short space of time.

We Jews are well practised in how to move from sadness to stoicism, anguish to joy. So, Yom Kippur celebrates the fine hinge of Jewish time, the precise pivotal point that can change animosity into amity, apathy into empathy. Shakespeare told us: “We are the clocks on which time tells itself”.

Before you realise it, we change from white to green, from the sombre synagogue to the vibrant green of the Sukkah, the wild rush of colour and movement that Simchat Torah is.

Yet there is an element of Yom Kippur time that merges with Simchat Torah time. The final day, or two days (outside of Israel), of the month long Tishrei cycle are known as Shemini Atzeret (Simchat Torah is a stand-alone Chag or holiday, only in the Diaspora). The word Atzeret denounces a halt, a time to pause and reflect. That is the link to Yom Kippur, the essential day of pause and introspection. Both remind us to consider, not what we are going to live from in the new year, but what we are going to live for.

We don’t get to choose our families and our fortunes, but we are given a little slice of life, a little “shtikel of opportunity” to make our own. Rav Soloveitchik says that’s the difference between fate and destiny, “beshert” and freedom. Fate is what happens to you. Destiny is what you make happen.

And seizing one’s destiny in that fraction of a moment can make all the difference.

“Carpe diem – grasp the moment”, or as Hillel famously put it: “If not now, then when?” Recognise the moment when it presents itself.

If it works on a personal level, it also operates on a national one. As a Jewish people we are bound by our covenant of fate to all Jews, but we are also united by a common covenant of destiny. And today, as Jews, we are captains of our own destiny after thousands of years of being captives of other’s destiny. We have Israel, and despite its failings and flaws (and there are many), we need to stand up proudly for it.

You may not like Israel’s current policies. You may be in angst about the dramatic weakening of the democratic institutions in Israel. You may worry about our Charedi brothers and sisters, and their failure to participate in the military and economic life of the country… or for the strategies being used to challenge that situation. You may be angry at the radical secularists at some of the Democracy demonstrations or the religious nationalist extremists and their inordinate political power.

But what a place of energy and innovation this Israel remains. Start-up high-tech businesses that have changed the way the world communicates; that are changing the face of medicine through their chutzpah, inventiveness and unabashed desire to improve the human condition; that have created one of the most edgy cities in the world, with great coffee!

Israel may be in crisis but it’s not too late to declare an internal cease-fire, to ensure the healthy continuity of the innovation nation, to seek compromise not conflict. I love the words of the Rebbe:

“To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens”.

This, of course, resonates for us in Australia, as we face the referendum. My prayer is that it will not divide but unite, that we will be guided by our special hearts and listen to the voice of the dispossessed.

And as we say farewell to our green festival, let us remember that at this critical time for the climate of the world, we may not be able to change what has been lost, but we can still work to preserve what we have. And if not now, then when?

Time, we hold it in our hands – as delicate as a glass ball, as beautiful as a polished diamond. At this Festival of Pause, Shemini Atzeret, let’s be sure to handle and use it with care.

Rabbi Ralph

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