Over the last week or two, I have been moving out of my apartment in preparation to move to Pittsburgh. Packing boxes, sorting through papers, getting rid of furniture, and lots of complaining. Moving is challenging. It is tons of tiny acts that when collected, move your life to a new location. What we often miss, a process, I’m trying to engage in myself, is actually transitioning from one life to another.
This shift, stepping from one side of a doorway to the other, contains two parts. First, the acts surrounding the transition, rituals to show the changes and second, the beliefs, values, and stories we tell of who we are becoming.
Together, acts and their meanings are what shift us from the life we lived to the life we will live. Bekhukotai, this week’s parasha (portion) begins with the following:
אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם׃
וְנָתַתִּ֥י גִשְׁמֵיכֶ֖ם בְּעִתָּ֑ם וְנָתְנָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ יְבוּלָ֔הּ וְעֵ֥ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה יִתֵּ֥ן פִּרְיֽוֹ׃
If you walk in my statutes, keep my commandments and do them, then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. (Lev. 26:3–4)
These words can be a guide to helping us make our transitions more meaningful and lasting.
The grammar nerd that I am, I notice the verbs in the first sentence: walk, keep, do. The beginning of our transition consists of actions, values we hold dear, and the way we walk in the world.
Question 1: How did I walk through the world?
As part of my moving process, I found so many objects and papers that represented all of the things I had done, studied, and hoped to accomplish. As I reflected on what I found, I began to see who I was anew, discovering qualities and aspects of myself that I had forgotten. I found letters and mementos that reminded me of relationships, experiences, and activities that helped form the person and connections I have now. Had I not gone through this change in my life, I might have lost those things! To reach the highest potential in making meaning of our transitions, we should strive to see clearly the place we came from, to see what made us who we are.
Question 2: What values did I cherish?
In Hebrew, the word שמר (sha-mar) means to keep or guard. We are told elsewhere to “keep” or “guard” Shabbat. Here, we are told to keep the mitzvot. Here, in terms of how we make transitions, we should ask ourselves, what values did we hold most dear? I have made many choices that have concretized into ways that guide my actions. Those principles and values, in order to have deeper meaning, must be explored. When we investigate what values we hold dear, we can better understand what values we want to emphasize and those we wish to leave behind. When I began school, I was very concerned about how everyone else was acting or supposed to act. This value is something I have tried to leave behind. I did not pack it into any boxes on the way to Pittsburgh.
Question 3: What do I want to do?
With the two previous questions in mind, asking who we are and what values are important to us, we land on the question of what we want to do moving forward. I know that there are so many things that I wanted to do but did not. Spending the last week or two moving has spurred many of these feelings and thoughts. Going through the process of evaluating my past and my values, I have started to outline, what do I want to do? That being said, it is important to recognize that it is easy to state in advance our intentions and expectations, but challenging to actually live them out. In what ways can we set ourselves up for success? What ways can we make this transition into a call to action?
The second half of the verse is the reward. In the context of the verse, God will reward us for fulfilling God’s commandments. While I’ll admit there a few theological issues there, that will be for another time. What I want to focus on is that when we go through the process of not just moving, but transitioning to a new life, we are rewarded with the refreshing rains, the sustaining produce, and the sweet fruit of our labor.
There are many things happening in my life right now and I know I’m not alone. Let us remember to breathe and to reflect. When we walk, keep, and do, we turn moving to new places into transitions to new lives.