Sunday, November 23, 2008

Change is Good -- What does that Mean?

If there’s any one subject that is on all of our minds these days and weeks, it’s “change.” Change is in the air. We’re eager for ‘change’ as our new president takes office. We’re eager for ‘change’ as we think about economic challenges. We’re eager for ‘change’ as we begin a new era at Adas Israel as well. People tell me that they feel a positive energy in the life of the synagogue, and that ‘sense of change’ is electrifying. This is all wonderful, but what exactly do we mean by ‘change’ anyway? It seems to me that the all-encompassing desire for change at our synagogue, and in the whole country is the feeling that we just want things to be different. It’s the feeling that the old ways have been spent, they’ve had their moment, they no longer work, and we need new ways of doing things in order to fix all the problems that the old ways have created. We all agree that “Change is Good,” but for many of us, there is an undercurrent of deep anxiety behind the desire for change. Our desire may reflect a deep sense that ‘who we are’ and ‘what we have’ now is bad, unacceptable, and insecure.
Naturally, when we think about the economy, societal ills, and war—yes we have deep challenges now that need to be addressed. When we contemplate our synagogue and its services and programs that need new energy, ideas, and updating—again, we have lots of work cut out for us. In all these areas of life, “Change is Good!” But I would like us to take another look at ‘change,’ and develop a new relationship to the meaning of change itself.
The Book of Ecclesiastes says, “Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build…”(Ecclesiastes 3:1-3) Change and the phenomena of transience and impermanence have been enshrined in the deepest wisdom teachings of our people for centuries. The more deeply we look into the nature of all things, we can see that change happens whether we want it to or not. The very nature of this cosmos is change itself.
We want to live in harmony with the natural order of things. When we can change, we are free to grow and evolve, to adapt and discover new ways of living and surviving from generation to generation. So when we say that we “want” change, we’re really saying that we want to feel empowered and open to possibilities. We don’t want to live in societies or communities that make us feel that we cannot live up to our greatest potential for happiness.
The Truth is that “change” is what is here and now. It is, always, the only thing that is here and now. The positive energy and excitement about change that many of us are experiencing in our community comes from how we are working with the energy of change these days. We can be fearless even as things change because, indeed, change is good! Change is a fundamental aspect of Truth, and as you might have heard me mention, the Truth is good! Challenges appear to be ‘problems’ when we see them as ‘unchanging’ unless we ‘fix’ them. They linger as ‘problems’ when we resist them and fight against them. The Truth is, when we work with the energy of the apparent ‘problems’ of our community, they reveal their own solutions all by themselves.
All throughout our community, people are naturally finding new ways to experience connection and community, and that positive energy is coming not from me, but from the people themselves. Whether it be a group of dads in the Gan HaYeled community who want to hang out with me and study some Torah after they put their kids to bed, or another group of religious school families who want to join together in each other’s homes for Shabbat and holidays—they are all finding great blessings in who and what they are right now.
Rabbi Yechiel of Alexander transmitted this teaching in the name of his teacher, Rabbi Simcha Bunim: “Consider this in light of the verse: "You have made my life just handbreadths long" (Ps. 39:6). This is like a person who is measuring and pulling a rope that is seventy cubits long. No matter what he does, he only has that handbreadth of rope he holds in his hand. Similarly, the past is gone, and the future has not yet arrived and we have only that handbreadth of life and action in our possession. This is our life: we possess only the present moment.” (Yismach Yisrael, by R. Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzhak Danziger. Translation by Rabbi Jonathan Slater)
The possibility of change is neither in the past nor in the future. It is literally in our grasp, in our “handbreadth” of life that we live right here and right now. When we embrace our community, our times, our challenges just as they are right now; when we allow the natural process of adaptation and evolution to unfold before our eyes fearlessly, then the excitement that we’re feeling in our community will not diminish. We will notice a community that is always growing and thriving in spirit and enthusiasm, even as times and generations come and go. Change is good because what we have today in our community, in our world all around us, is indeed very good.