This week’s parsha – and the entire Book of Exodus – has near the beginning the infamous words, “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8). I always find it interesting when new beginnings in the Torah coincide with other beginnings, like the start of 2010. So what can I glean from this?
Well, first, it reminds me that no matter how much you have accomplished in the past, when a new start rolls around not only do you get a clean slate, but you also can lose the credits that you’ve earned and need to begin again to accomplish deeds, to perform mitzvot, to make something of yourself. The fact that I had a good or – for that matter – a bad 2009 does not mean that is indicative of how 2010 will be for me.
We have a tradition that is always looking for opportunities to let us start over, to begin again, to have a second or even a third chance. Every Rosh HaShanah we talk about cheshbon hanefesh, soul searching. We discuss the need to look over our behavior for the past year, what we want to change, and what we want to make sure to keep doing. Then Pesach rolls around in the spring and while we are cleaning the chametz, the leaven, out of our homes, we are encouraged to clean it out of our hearts and souls as well – another self-exam. So, too, the secular New Year is an opportunity for a very Jewish re-start. So what is it that you intended to do, that you committed yourself to doing last Rosh HaShanah, but, alas, you haven’t done? Now is your opportunity to try again. Perhaps, it was related to Jewish education – something that we are encouraged not only to do as children preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah, but as a lifelong endeavor as Jews. We had good intentions, we were busy, we got sidetracked, we were distracted; but here’s your chance. Mark down this date – Feb. 6. Besides being Parshat Yitro when we will next read the giving of the Ten Commandments, it is also the night in our community for the Sweet Tastes of Torah: A Community Night of Learning.
For each of us, what we want and need to do will be different. It might be more learning or it be more doing of Ma’asim Tovim, good deeds, or it might be more community involvement. What I hope none of us will do is to decide that we don’t need more Jewish living or learning in our lives. Nurture your soul. Give it a change to grow. Whatever it is that you decide upon, remember that you are a part of this Jewish community. Hillel taught us in Pirkei Avot (The Wisdom of our Ancestors): Do not separate yourself from the community (Avot 2:5). So in 2010 seek out opportunities for Jewish learning and Jewish living. Make the most of the New Year that has just begun. Live each day to the fullest. May our paths cross and may we have the opportunity to study Torah together this year.