In the Jewish world, many things start before they begin. Whether we are cleaning leavened bread from our homes in the days before Passover or are in the backyard building our hut before the holiday of Sukkot, preparation is essential to Jewish practice. This is the theme of our weekly Parsha, Nitzavim, and of my experience as the new director of JCRC here at JEWISHcolorado.
Since I arrived at JEWISHcolorado – two months before Rosh Hashanah and 9 weeks before the first meeting of the JCRC board for the 2023 year – I have been trying to prepare myself for something that is essentially unknown. I have asked myself, “What will it be like to run this year’s JCRC board?” and “How do I prepare for the unknowable?” I have approached this by doing everything that I can: meeting as many stakeholders as possible, researching other successful JCRCs, engaging our lobbyists, and reading as much Jewish news as possible. And yet, while all this work is valuable, it cannot answer my most pressing questions: what this particular board will be like, what will be the internal dynamics, how will I manage expectations, how will I perform?
Certainly, this is similar to reflecting on a new year that has not yet begun. We wonder what the new year will hold, will it be among the best, will I find happiness, how will my kids handle the new school year, will we avoid tragedy and disaster? The possibilities are endless and the answers seem so far away. How do we reconcile ourselves to this much uncertainty and anxiety?
This week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim tells us that, in fact, the answer to this question is “not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens…Neither is it beyond the sea.” Although it is much closer than those distant locations, it is still not simple to find, since the parsha tells us that the answer is “in your mouth and in your heart.” Certainly, neither my mouth nor my heart know the answers to the questions I posed, so what is the parsha proposing? What kind of truth might they contain? To my mind, this tells me that I am asking the wrong questions and looking in all the wrong places for certainty, truth, and comfort. Or, maybe just asking the questions is the value. And perhaps finding a way to be comfortable without clear answers, while we still continue to wonder and seek, is an ideal place to be at the cusp of the Jewish New Year.
We wish each and every one of you comfort as you seek meaning over the next few days and, of course, a Shana Tova v’Metukah, a sweet and successful New Year.
Director, Jewish Community Relations Council
Please email Dan Leshem at dleshem@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.