To everything, there is a season
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted;
A time to tear down and a time to build up;
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to grieve and a time to dance;
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek and a time to lose,
A time to keep and a time to discard;
A time to tear and a time to sew,
A time to keep silent and a time to speak.
It’s true – in life we take the good and the bad and work to keep going, work to find meaning, work to keep turning. Whether you think this wisdom comes from The Byrds or know that this biblical lesson comes from the book of Ecclesiasties, I share it with you now because this idea that the world continues to turn, is a beautiful reminder we also see in this week’s Torah portion. Our parasha this week mentions the holiday of Rosh Hodesh. While mostly known as a women’s holiday, the traditional monthly celebration of the new moon represents the value of constant renewal in Jewish tradition. Like the moon, we are all constantly changing. Life has ups and downs, it ebbs and flows like the moon waxes and wanes.
The Talmud (in Menachot) teaches (in the name of Reb Yishmael), that God told Moses to observe the moon in order to recognize that light shall emanate from darkness and Israel, no matter the challenge, will know renewal and revitalization. It’s a beautiful lesson about hope in times of difficulty. The additional unspoken lesson here though is that we will absolutely know darkness. The moon reminds us that there will be times when light and hope seem dim, but there will also be moments of fullness and joy. Along with speaking the language of Ecclesiastes, this idea can be found in an old Jewish story about King Solomon.
“I have heard rumors of a fabulous ring,” said King Solomon. “It has a unique power. When a sad man gazes upon it, he becomes happy. But when a happy man gazes upon it, he becomes sad. Find this ring and bring it to me.” Many servants set out in search of the ring. One, his favorite servant, traveled from town to town, inquiring as to its whereabouts. But no one had ever heard of such a thing. He was about to give up when he spotted a junk shop, whose proprietor was sitting out front. He approached the man and described the object of his search. “A ring that cheers the sad and saddens the cheerful?” said the junk dealer. “Come inside.” They entered the shop. From a box full of trinkets the junk dealer took a plain, silver ring. He engraved some words on it and gave it to the servant who read the inscription, nodded sagely, and headed back to the palace. Solomon summoned all the servants that had taken on this mission. The first came up empty handed, the second brought a ring made out of gems. Finally, his favorite servant approached with the ring from the junk shop. This was it. King Solomon removed all his costly rings and slipped on the ring from the junk shop instead. He wore it to remind himself that life ebbs and flows, that nothing is permanent.
Any idea what was inscribed on that ring? “Gam Zeh Yavoor” – “This too shall pass”
That thought–“Gam Zeh Yaavor”–interrupts us in the midst of the life we are living to tell us that nothing lasts forever, neither joy nor sorrow.
In hard situations these words may provide a glimmer of comfort.
In moments of celebration they can offer humility or be a rallying call to express love and gratitude.
Like the new moon, a small glimmer of hope in darkness, we are again reminded that in this life joy and sorrow exist hand and hand.
The great Jewish singer/songwriter Debbie Freedman sang and taught a message from Psalms, “those who sow in tears – will reap in joy” (Psalm 126). She composed this as a dear friend of hers suffered with mental illness. Debbie believed and taught that you cannot appreciate or recognize joy unless you have felt true sorrow. But you must consciously sow the tears, in order to reap life’s joys. Debbie herself suffered a debilitating neurological disorder for twenty years, one which hindered her ability to move freely, and sometimes even move at all, yet she was able to keep singing and performing and inspiring others. And with an awareness of Gam Zeh Yaavor, she left behind a beautiful legacy. Among the many songs she gave us is one popular version of Misheberach L’Cholim, the prayer for healing. It asks, “May the source of strength…help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”
Liturgy, Psalms, Solomon, Ecclesiastes and our Torah portion discussing Rosh Hodesh all remind us that life is not stagnant. On the contrary, we’re always moving, always turning.
Whether a source of comfort or a challenge to make the most of the time we have, these Jewish lessons remind us that life is constantly changing and renewing.
Ellie Weisel taught:
“Judaism is not the pursuit of happiness; it’s the pursuit of meaning.”
It’s up to us to make the moments of our lives count.
Happiness doesn’t last. Neither does sorrow. But, meaning does.
Meaning is found in both the blessings and struggles of our lives.
We find darkness follows light, and so too does light follow darkness.
Our job is to recognize this movement of time and life, to acknowledge it, to celebrate it and to let it fill our moments with meaning.