Confronting Our Potential, Like it or Not
At this time of year, our culture has the tradition of setting resolutions for the upcoming year. We take time to reflect on the past twelve months and try and set priorities for the next. This past year, 2015, has been a big year. There has been a lot of violence, from Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, Nigeria, France, to a great deal of gun violence here at home in the United States. The Presidential race has begun, incredibly early. We saw never-before-seen images from Ceres and Pluto, igniting our love of space and exploration. There were natural disasters in Nepal and China, and there was a worldwide climate summit. Marriage equality was ruled the law of the land and relations began again between the United States and Cuba. Most importantly of course, the release of a new Star Wars movie. It’s been a full year indeed.
We don’t always take the time to really review our actions and our experiences from the previous year. We have a few markers throughout the year, Rosh Hashanah being one example, to prod us and remind us of this important task. In fact, in the Talmud, in tractate Rosh Hashanah, the rabbis describe four such new years. The transition from December to January is not often considered a Jewish one, but my family has always expressed how lucky we are to have so many chances to start over, to reflect, and to reconnect. I try and ask myself: Did I reach my potential this year? What did I learn? What were my relationships like? How could I have been better?
We transition to a new book of the Torah this week, Sefer Shmot, the book of Exodus. At the beginning, we see the descendants of Jacob, seventy in all, entering the land of Egypt. We cringe and fear for them, knowing that slavery awaits them. If we imagine ourselves in their shoes, entering the land of Egypt. We would see potential, salvation, and hope ahead of us. Behind us, we often remember what was so bad and what was hard for us to encounter. For Jacob and his family, it was famine which drove them to Egypt.
This is true for us as well, looking forward into 2016, we can see opportunities to reach our greatest potential. The greatest challenge, reflected in the haftarah is actually allowing ourselves to see it.
This is how Jeremiah begins his experience as a prophet. In the Sephardic tradition, the haftarah for Parashat Shmot is from the beginning of Jeremiah. He proclaims to God: “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I do not know how to speak speak; for I am a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6) He does not believe that he is capable of meeting the challenge set before him. God is providing a grand opportunity, difficult and perhaps unwanted, but a chance to serve. God reminds Jeremiah that God knew him his entire life, and that God will be with him throughout this whole process.
We might want to say to ourselves, like Jeremiah, and Moses before him in the parashah, that we are not worthy and not capable of meeting the challenges that are up ahead. We might want to say that the past year has been exhausting and we have no more energy to move forward. But what Jeremiah can teach us here, in this haftarah is that through trust, of God and those around us, we can meet any challenge, encounter any problem, and succeed. We have barely scratched the surface of the new year. We have barely begun our journey through and out of Egypt.
May we all be blessed with a fresh set of eyes to look back and review our year, learning from our experiences, and reflecting on what we have accomplished. Let us take this process forward through to the new year, with trust that we can meet what is coming next, take the opportunities that lie before us to reach our potential, and make a difference.