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.

3 comments:

nuzze1 said...

well said Rabbi. Perhaps the change we seek is in ourselves, but we have trouble articulating that unless we have a vehicle, such as Obama, or whoever.

Stuart Butler said...

It is interesting to ponder the psychology of change. While most people – particularly Americans – are stirred by the idea of change, they tend at the same time to be fearful of it. Anxiety and uncertainty is the often subconscious enemy of change. Let’s remember how the initial excitement of the Exodus quickly faltered once real change began and anxiety about the future took hold. The Israelites soon began to convince themselves that there was something reassuring about the regularity of life in Egypt. And let’s remember, too, that the last time we tried to change our health care system the prospect of change became two-edged – change in the system’s gaps was good but the possibility of change in what people were comfortable with led to anxiety and then to opposition.

Change is simultaneously exciting and hard to accept. I think that for change to be accepted it must indeed meet many requirements. To add to what Rabbi Steinlauf says about Truth, one of the most important requirements is that there must be empathy and discussion. People can accept change if as a vibrant community they explore what it means by finding out what each other mean by the words they use, and what goals they have – and which are based on values they have in common. I think that is particularly important in turning the rhetoric of politics into real policy change, and it will be interesting to see if it happens next year.

Arnie Podgorsky said...

These are wonderfully provacative thoughts -- challenging just why we want "change," and what do we mean by it. Perhaps people reject not the old ways but just the more recent ways. Perhaps we want to retrieve older days (as we envision them), when bankers lent to people who could repay, financial representations meant something, governmental institutions monitored and regulated to help assure transparency and honesty, and the public respected these regulators. Likewise, if people feel that our shul has become a tad formal and cool, perhaps they wish for a time when communities were more woven and warm. While change may need to begin with ourselves, objective indicia such as the failure of our economic institutions, and not just our personal psychology, may indicate that change is no kidding, needed. One thing seems clear though, whatever comes will not replicate our fantasies about the good old day, and as Stuart point out, whatever comes may or may not work. Either way, our lives sure are exciting and we may as well enjoy the ride!
The blog is great and I hope to see more comments here.