Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Power of Change - YIOP Bulletin August 2007

Here in Michigan, we’re no strangers to the forces of change. In fact, we’re now experiencing the painful results of resistance and indifference to change, as economic forces, international trade agreements and numerous other factors have conspired to throw us into the slump we find ourselves in now. But perhaps, more than anything, Michigan finds itself in its one-state recession because of an unwillingness to change. The auto companies continue to produce gas-guzzling cars irrespective of the rising cost of fuel. Unions continue to demand and expect significant concessions from these companies, irrespective of the prospects of the companies’ viability. Politicians refuse to continue to promote the notion that we should enjoy all of the benefits of the past, irrespective of our ability to afford them.
We make all of these mistakes, and many more, because most of us abhor change. We are creatures of habit. We like our routines, enjoy our regular activities, have the same friends and acquaintances, and don’t often try new things because we find the very notion of change painful and difficult. In the words of British novelist Arnold Bennett, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”
Yet, change is perhaps one of the only constants of life. Change is all around us: the world continues to develop and grow, both for the better, and for the worse. We change professionally, personally, intellectually and emotionally. Our community changes, ever so subtly and gradually, but definitively. Our families change and grow. Our jobs change – whether we transfer to a different firm or company, or simply take on new responsibilities. And yet, despite all this, we still resist change.
Perhaps that is why Judaism considers change an integral aspect of religious life. After all, as the month of Elul begins, we blow the shofar each morning at the end of davening to awaken ourselves to begin the process of Teshuva. Sure, we translate the word תשובה to mean “repentance” or “return,” but isn’t that just a fancy way of referring to change? In order to “repent” or “return” we must change the way we do things: the way we act and react to each-other; the priorities that set the agenda for the way that we lead our lives. Sometimes I think that because we undergo the Teshuva process in the religious arena of life – in shul, during davening – we allow ourselves to divorce that process from what we consider “real life”: from our jobs and marriages, from our friendships and families.
But if we think about the High Holidays as a time not just of Teshuva, but a time of “Opportunity for Change,” then other avenues begin to open themselves to us. Perhaps someone needs to change jobs, because the one he has now doesn’t allow for any real family time. Someone else might need to consider changing friendships, because her current relationships are negative and destructive. And to me, these changes are much more fundamental, significant and all-encompassing than any particular ritual commitment, as important as that may be.
To highlight the importance of this notion of change, YIOP’s annual Pre-High Holiday lecture will revolve around the topic of “Navigating Change.” As always, we have the privilege of hearing from wonderful and enlightening speakers local and regional speakers and educators. They include our rebbetzin Rena Spolter, Rabbi Yehuda Gettinger, a Rosh Yeshiva from South Bend, Indiana, Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, who teaches throughout the community and runs the Lidrosh Institute, and the ever-popular Rabbi Leiby Burnham of Partners in Torah. Also, the series concludes with a family Shalosh Seudos and the Shabbos Shuvah Drashah.
While it’s hard to think about the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah will be upon us before we know it. And if we embrace the possibility for change within ourselves, our shul, and our community, that openness and willingness to change also gives the potential for incredible spiritual growth.