Like many, I have been exploring Mishkan HaNefesh. Opening up a new book is always an act filled with possibilities. If it is a work of fiction, I wonder if the plot line will take me out of my own life and if I will see myself in any of the characters. If I am reading non-fiction, I wonder how or if what I am reading will change the way I think about something. Opening the new machzor is a combination of both. Perhaps I am a character in this book and with any luck, I will be changed by my interaction with it.
In one of the introductory essays to the Rosh HaShanah volume, Dr. Laura Lieber writes, “Doorways are charged spaces. We know intuitively that the world on one side of a door is different from the world on the other side…Normally we give little thought to the doors and gates through which we pass, but the High Holy Days are different: we construct an “existential doorway” and linger there for ten days of reflection.”
During those days we may find the time to think about both the year that is ending and the year that is beginning. Surely in the past year there have been high points and low points, opportunities seized and opportunities missed. We look to the new year as one filled with promises and possibilities. But we are wise enough to know that the possibilities are not endless. We are well acquainted with the mantra that we must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. The demands of our work and the obligations to our families require that we carefully budget our time and energy.
It is not an easy balancing act. Taking care of ourselves may mean that the laundry goes undone. Do we go to the gym or do we stay home in order to pay bills? Do we take some time for study or do we clean out our email inbox? Seeing it as black or white allows us to find the easy solution. We only do one of the options. And it is usually the option that benefits others more than it benefits us. But experience has shown us that we can actually do both. Even an hour can be divided in half. Moreover, doing something for ourselves often gives us the energy, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, to do even more. Just ask anyone who has exercised even a little. The benefits of greater energy or a clearer head last well beyond the minutes spent exercising.
In addition to making the time, planning is a key element in turning our best intentions into realities. From setting an hour aside in our day for study to rearranging our schedules in order to attend an out-of-town conference, planning is essential.
As the new year is about to unfold, we again have the opportunity to consider, and plan, how study and professional development will add value to our lives and strengthen our leadership. Perhaps it will be a seminar on successful communications, taught by an expert in the field. Maybe it will be a series of webinars on building a Jewish mindfulness practice. Or a program designed specifically for rabbis of smaller congregations. As the role of the rabbi continues to change and the Jewish community continues to evolve, the CCAR is committed to providing you with the highest level of lifelong learning and professional development opportunities and experiences. The doorway of the new year is open, waiting for us to choose wisely from all that is there.
Rabbi Victor Appell is the new program manager at Central Conference of American Rabbis.