A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Closing in on Change

Rosh Ha-Shanah approaches (Monday night). Rosh Ha-Shanah, "Beginning of the Year" can also be understood as the "Beginning of Change" because the words "year" and "change" both have Sh-N-H as their root. I've been thinking a lot about the possibility of change and the dynamics of change.

Can we change? Can the world be changed? This is the challenge to faith - not whether God exists or not, is good or not. If there is anything that we are required to believe in, it is that change is possible - that we are not plants, living out our days waiting to die and be reprocessed as worm feces. Rather, that we inherit a life of a certain sort in a world in a certian condition and we can, through struggle and insight, rise above the contingencies of our existence.

The Aish Kodesh, about whom I've written before, writes very powerfully about the challenges to change. In the past I've focused on actions, on making sure not to do certain things, or to do certain things. The AK views this not even as a low level of change, but as a deeply unhealthy and impermanent form of change.

Instead, he says, we have to work on the person behind the actions, the soul that animates the being. How is it possible that a soul can change itself? What gives it the capacity to move itself from one state to another? The "it" that is seeking to change can become it's own object? Whatzamadda-you?

This is yet another aspect of the word teshuvah, commonly translated as "repentance." The word literally means "answer" and is related to the word "turn." In the process of teshuvah we turn in on ourselves, and, seeking to arrive at the root, examine what and who we are. But the end of the process is the ongoing work of moving ourselves from a lower to a higher state.

And this is the final goal of Rosh Ha-Shanah. Not to make changes to outer appearance or to acts alone. But to try to get at the root and repair what is broken.