7 September 2012
20 Elul 5772
“Kol hatchalot kashot,” the Hebrew saying goes. “All beginnings are difficult.”
I shared the following story with our students and faculty at our opening assembly on Tuesday and with some parents at our coffee and schmooze that morning.
As I prepared to leave the house for our first official day of school with the normal butterflies of excitement and nervousness in my stomach, my three oldest children were also getting ready for their first day of school. My third child has the biggest transition in the family (or so I assumed) for he is entering kindergarten at a new school. My wife informed our kids that she would need to rotate through their classrooms for about 15 minutes each on the first day because she couldn’t be in three places at once (and I would be with my other 315 children at Gann for our opening). I chimed in with what I thought would be a benign comment, but, to my surprise, I touched a nerve.
Speaking to my two older children, I said, “I think you should be prepared for Ima (mother, in Hebrew) to need to spend more time in your younger brother’s class because we don’t know how he will handle this transition.” At which point, my oldest son started to cry. “Abba, (father, in Hebrew), what is the matter with you? Do you think I’m not starting fourth grade? I’m not just continuing third grade! Do you think I’m not starting something new? I want my 15 minutes!” Clearly, these emotions had been building up, and he needed to express them. For me it was a painful and enlightening moment for two reasons: one, my son beautifully articulated the anxiety he was feeling that morning because every year is a new beginning regardless of the grade you are entering; and second, he pointed out that I was completely oblivious to his emotions and to the significance of this transition for him.
We simply cannot underestimate the psychological and emotional complexity of transition and change, which we are all experiencing on one level or another at the start of a new school year. We feel a mix of fear and excitement about things we believe we know to be true about the year ahead and about the unknown, as well.
We are also on the brink of a new beginning in the spiritual rhythm of the Jewish calendar as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and as we read the Book of Deverim (Deuteronomy), in which the Jewish People prepare to cross the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. In thinking about the challenges of beginning again, two powerful statements in this week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, resonate with me as sources of guidance and inspiration in the face of change.
In Devarim 27:9, Moshe tells B’nei Yisrael, “. . . today you have become a people to the Lord your God.” Something about this moment—–perhaps, because it is the culmination of their journey up until this point, perhaps, because of the power of what they are experiencing together, perhaps, because of the journey on which they are about to embark—something about this moment transforms B’nei Yisrael into a people. This reminds us that we are not alone on this journey. We are in this together. Especially when the ground under us is shifting, we can feel so alone and not understood. We need to remember to look around us, reach out to others, and realize that we are experiencing this new beginning with others, as part of a community.
Later in the parsha, Moshe summons the people and tells them, “You have seen all that God has done (up until this point) . . . Yet God has not given you a mind to understand nor eyes to see nor ears to hear until this very day (29:1-3).” You have seen it all. You think you know what you’re in for. You’ve been there, done that. And yet, here is what’s amazing about beginning again: Your mind, your eyes, your ears, and your hearts are about to be opened in ways and to things that you have never experienced before. You will see and understand things you thought you knew more deeply and in a different light. You will discover new people, places, and ideas, new dimensions of yourself and of those you think you can’t know any better. New beginnings are difficult, and the unknown can be scary, but just be patient and take your time because the future is filled with the wonders of new learning and possibilities.
Bruchim Habaim, welcome, to the start of a new school year. I am excited about beginning again with all of you.
Rabbi Marc Baker