As a Hebrew calendar year draws to a close it is often with an amalgam of sadness and joy. Tonight at the onset of 5771, I look backwards at the cycle of Torah readings and the stories, admonishments and lessons they have imparted tirelessly for millennia. This week, I have posted my illustrations for Ha’Azinu, the year’s second to last parashah from my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009). This parashah is significant in that it contains no commandments. Instead, Mose’s poetry, which recounts events in Israel’s history and relationship with God, means to teach us that looking backwards is only half of the picture. Provided with that perspective, we are gifted with responsibility for our future. But also with the joy of looking forward to a new year in which new perspectives are honed from old and the hope that inspires change is applied where it is needed.
As information overload eats at our memory and attention spans, it has become increasingly difficult to move our historical baggage into the future. Yet times demand that we do so more than ever. Remembering our past is vital to maintaining perspective in a world we are forging at reckless lightspeed. This is not to say we should become Bible-waving prophets of doom and discrimination. Dwelling on the negative is slow poison. At the very least, there is much wonder in seeing how our speck of a planet has managed to endure despite our mushrooming toxic stewardship. At this time of year, from Jewish point of view, our system of blessings feel especially poignant. Though part of daily prayer services, blessings can be spoken at any point in the day. They are a unique way of continually codifying our comprehension and appreciation of the earth and our role in the universal scheme of existence.
For now, I’d rather focus on my own efforts to function as a cell within the larger communal body; a body that is by extension in a constant struggle to satisfy its creature comforts, religious and secular needs. How can I best serve this process yet maintain my creative integrity?
In this year, since the completion of my book, I am experiencing odd waves of joy alternating with uneasiness. The former is the excitement at having accomplished a long term goal while the latter stems from the notion that while a huge task is behind me, my work is still not done. I must now answer many questions not just about the book, but about what comes next. Will I produce a ‘sequel’ or a companion book, continue my work as an illustrator, artist and writer or simply retire? There is much to consider in the coming year, but to answer my question above, I will do so as creatively possible, one day at a time.
It’s also been said that every beginning contains its own ending, but for me, the space in between is now.
With Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy, Thoughtful Holiday Season and New Year! L’Shana Tovah!