New Beginnings Begin by Perspective
What are new beginnings, really? Are they events, happenings that we step into, or are they something else entirely? Today marks some profound beginnings. Rabbi Sandler begins a new chapter in his professional career, after 37 years of full time service to the Jewish community, he is beginning a new adventure, stepping into a new role with our congregation and planning his exciting and vibrant future, which will, God-willing, include a grandbaby! (B'Sha'ah Tovah to Neil, Susan, Ariel, and Jamie). If only baseball was happening, Neil would then be able to say he had arrived in Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden). Today is Rabbi Sam's first day as the Associate Rabbi of our congregation. More than his new beginning, this is a wonderful beginning for us which I pray we will capture by making him feel welcomed and part of the Ahavath Achim family. Many of us are still acclimating to the new, virtual world. Although there is still a sting when we think about our new reality, I am hearing about people leaning in and adapting, embracing, and exploring a world without the restrictions of distance. People taking online classes from major universities they never visited, they are connecting with old friends, far away. Others are learning about different cultures and connecting with people in far off countries. It's amazing… it's a new beginning.
The question I want to ask is not about when beginnings happen but what allows them to happen. Beginnings are more than just points in time; when one thing ends, so another thing begins. There are plenty of people who arrive at such moments and nothing changes for them. Our Torah shares with us a subtle truth about beginnings – they are often about perspective.
In Parshat Balak, we learn the story of the sorcerer/prophet Bilam, who was sent to curse the Jewish people only to change his words into a blessing and a statement of admiration. Bilam's words are found in our prayer book each morning – Mah Tovu O'halecha, Ya'akov – How beautiful are your tents. Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel. We not only say these words each morning to start our morning prayers, it is arguably the most learned piece of liturgy/scripture introduced to our children in song. Although the words are beautiful and the end result of the story is one of blessing, it is a bit strange that we start each morning and we teach our children the words of somebody whose intention originally was one of cursedness.
Our Torah is sharing with us an important truth about beginnings – they are all about perspective. No doubt, life happens: jobs end, opportunities arise and fall, moments come and go. However, our emotional, spiritual, and mental posture will dictate so much about how those moments are perceived, confronted, and experienced. Just as in the case of Bilam, perspective can change in a heartbeat. You could feel one way one minute and another way the next. We recite Mah Tovu each morning because today doesn't need to be tied to our experience from yesterday. Children learn how to sing these words because each moment must be approached with a freshness and openness turning something ordinary into something extraordinary. A new world is beginning! It begins the minute we decide to seek its blessings rather than its curses.