The blog went a bit quiet this past week, as I was busy moving home - the second time in 2 months. We moved out of my partner's home of 24 years in New Jersey last month, had 4 weeks of transition with some items in storage while we packed up the condo that I have been renting in town near the synagogue, and moved into another rented condo with a bit more space this past Thursday. The following reflections are edited from a sermon I gave shortly after the first move, in which I realized that our preparing, packing and moving process shared a great deal in common with the rhythm of the Jewish year from Elul through Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, up until Succot.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz
When it came to packing up the house in New Jersey, there was a great deal of effort involved with a house that had been a home for a family for 24 years. For 4 weeks we sorted, divided, divested, and boxed. It took 4 solid weeks to get things ready for the move. We had to decide what we didn’t need to bring with us, what we wanted to have available almost immediately, and what we were willing to store away in the hope that it could be of use in the future when we finally buy a house.
When I moved out of my rented room in NYC to Blackrock, 4 years ago, it took about 2 days to pack. But you acquire a lot of stuff when you’ve lived in a large house for 24 years, where 4 children have lived and grown into adulthood. The longer you’ve been in one place, the more stuff you are likely to have acquired, and the longer you need to really go through it and decide what to do with it all.
Having packed for 4 weeks, we took a 10 day vacation - the timing might have been a bit crazy in the midst of such an enormous move, but this was really our only opportunity to get a break this Summer. But the truth is, when you’re doing something as intense as packing up a house for 4 weeks, its good to take a break, to take stock, and also to take in the sweetness of the life transitions that are enabling or requiring this work to be done. And they were a very sweet 10 days.
Finally, the moving trucks came. Things started a little later than they should have done which ended up making for a rather nerve-wracking evening. The late arrival of the trucks in the morning meant that they ended up driving up from NJ during rush hour, further delaying matters. Aside from making for a long day, why did this matter? Because the gates that provide vehicle entrance to the unloading bays at Public Storage lock automatically at 9pm. Two full trucks arrived at 7.30pm in the midst of a thunder storm, to be followed in the next 1.5 hours by two more intense thunderstorms where work had to cease for 5-10 mins at a time. At 3 mins to 9 we ran over to our moving guys – ‘the gates are closing, the gates are closing!’ – you have to pull the trucks out now! With one truck unloaded, they pulled out just before the gates became permanently closed.
Except that it wasn’t a complete closure. The pedestrian gate remained open and, luckily for us, the unloading bay we needed for the second truck that was unloading into a second unit, was right by that front gate. The unloading diligently continued until the job was done.
So what does this have to do with our High Holyday season? The month of Elul is preparation time – there is wisdom in a tradition that understands that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur become more meaningful and more transformational if we enter them having prepared. What does ‘prepared’ mean? It means looking at the landscape of one’s life and reviewing what one has acquired – not material things, but habits, behaviors, baggage. Sometimes there are things that we recognize that we need to divest ourselves of entirely – these are behaviors or habits that add nothing to who we are or what we do in the world; some of them are just plain wrong, but others might have served us at previous times in our lives, but we realize that we have become locked into some habits that no longer serve us now. We have to examine ourselves to be able to identify what these are and decide what we will try to do about them, and that takes time.
4 weeks to organize stuff, divest, pack boxes – 4 weeks to review the emotional and spiritual stuff of our lives.
Then we arrive at 1st Tishri – Rosh Hashanah. We talk about a Sweet New Year. Rosh Hashanah is not only the Jewish New Year, but it is also the beginning of the 10 days leading to Yom Kippur. If one really engages in personal reflection and assessment for 4 weeks – a very intense activity – one needs some release – to recognize the sweetness that comes with letting go of the past, apologizing for misdeeds, cleansing and consciously allowing the New Year to be a time of meaningful transition in our lives.
And then Yom Kippur arrives – the big day. We gather up all our stuff and present it to the big moving company in the sky – please help to take care of this stuff for us! As the day unfolds we engage with the words and thoughts and the silences and we review the progress we are making. But we travel with a lifetime of stuff and we realize – even after all that preparation – that there’s still more to do. As the day draws to a close, we read in our liturgy – ‘the gates are closing, the gates are closing!’ We have no choice but to exit with the rest of the community at the final shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur. But if we still have work to do, the truth is that the gates aren’t really closed. There is still a way to continue. Our tradition gives until Succot to continue what we may have started so that we really can feel able to enter into a New Year having dealt with our stuff – at least some of it – and can begin afresh.
The reflection pieces on this blog offer an invitation to reflect on the 'stuff' of our lives and prepare ourselves, so that we can enter into a Sweet New Year, and can begin again, feeling that we have made some progress in divesting ourselves of things and habits that we do not want or need. Put a little time aside each day to journal, or take a reflective walk; take time to talk with a trusted friend, make the calls and reconnect with the people that you feel distanced from. Find one new thing that you would like to commit to in the coming year to enrich and enhance your social connections, family connections, community and congregational connections, and spiritual life. In the words of the psalmist, ‘Teach us to treasure each day; that we may open our hearts to your wisdom, teach us to treasure each day.’