What a year… The 14th anniversary (2015 Sept. 11) of America’s greatest tragedy fell on the eve of the Shabbat, which happens to be just a day away from Rosh Hashannah, the first day of the year 5776 that begins on Sunday evening (2015 Sept. 13).
But stop and think a minute… by 5776 years ago people knew enough to start a calendar, to start counting the days and the years. Not long after that, people knew enough to write down the wisdom of the ages, as if to anticipate a complaint that arose at the dawn of the computer age when everything had to come with a user’s manual. That complaint was, why don’t babies, too, come with a user’s manual, so that bewildered parents would know the right thing to do.
Well, guess what. Babies may not be delivered with a user’s manual, but actually we’ve had one, maybe not quite for 5776 years but close enough. The trouble is, you do have to make the effort to know about it and then to know it. And it may not be specifically a baby user manual, but it is a manual of, about and for people. It’s not even all that long, but it’s very deep. In only five short books you find not only the Ten Commandments but also 613 others. It is telling that the collection of all the wisdom that went into explaining all those commandments is called the Halakha; literally the rules for walking around; that is, living in this life, on this Earth. What is that, if not a “user manual.”
In an age when we can’t even cope with the basic Ten, it’s daunting to ponder that there are hundreds more. But what is really impressive is that on issue after issue which sends us reeling from one crisis to another in our modern world, the instructions and the guidance are all there, they have been all there for thousands of years, if only we’d stop pretending that the world began when we were born. No, the world of us humans, God’s children, began countless generations ago; there is literally nothing new under the sun. People countless generations ago opened their hearts and minds to wisdom, made careful observations and inspired decisions, solved their problems, and wrote it all down for posterity. All we have to do is want to learn from them. Whether we like to admit it or not, people are people, today as many thousands of years ago. If we chose to ignore that simple fact, we’ll just have to re-learn everything all over again at our expense. What a waste.
My mother used to tell me, a fool insists on learning only from his own mistakes, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. If we only remembered that we don’t even have to learn from the mistakes of others… we can choose to learn from the wisdom of our ancestors.
The year 5775 ended with tragic mistakes, perhaps even great and deliberate misdeeds, in our fight against the evil rising up against us in the form of fanatical terrorists, their sponsors, and others helping them acquire nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
May the year 5776 see us correct those mistakes and misdeeds. May the year 5776 also see us make wise choices for our next President and members of Congress, because, God knows, the current bunch is a curse on our great country.
Happy New Year, everybody. Shalom Aleichem.