Everything New is Old Again

I don’t recall when I was first introduced to the Hebrew term “chiddush“. It means “a new insight” or, sometimes, just “something new”, which, at first glance seems fairly straightforward, almost innocuous, but it’s not.  Judaism strives for the “chiddush”, the newness, that splash of cold water that enlivens the spirit and passions. Hillel the Elder said in Pirke Avot (the Ethics of the Sages), that those who do not add (to knowledge) decrease (knowledge) (I:13). Rabbi Rami Shapiro translates/interprets a bit more closely to the text when he writes: “Those who cease to learn cease to live”. How can this be possible in a tradition that, regarding the Torah, warns: “You shall not add to that which I command you and you shall not subtract from it…” ?! (Deut. 4:2) What is new is not allowed because it is not original to the text, although, in a larger sense, what is new may, in fact, be old. very old.

In the grandest sense, nothing is new because all potentiality exists in the energy and physical substance of the universe. This is also true of spiritual and philosophical “matter” as well, all insights, all perceptions and all conclusions are already seen, perceived and concluded because they are all “there”, present, existent in less organized manners. It’s what King Solomon, writing as Kohelet/Ecclesiastes said: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9) Nothing new because it was all “spun” into potential when the world first began. So, what is “new” for us, may , in the “eyes” of the universe, be quite old, but it’s still new for us! It doesn’t matter whether something is old in the span of the ages; as I’m experiencing it, it’s new – and it’s wonderful!

Every bit of technology, every idea, every piece of art, every note of every song, every plot for a film, every act of hate and destruction, every article of peace in a peace treaty were all “created” before – in minuscule components that couldn’t amount to anything in and of themselves until they were crafted by air, water, fire, earth animals or humans into something “new” in the world.

And so, in this “new” year of 2016, lets all add to what “is” lest it decrease, let’s continue to learn so that we live and let’s make something new, even if it’s made up of things that have been around since the beginning of time.

Love over Fear

A learned but miserly man said to Rabbi Abraham of Stretyn: “They say that you give people mysterious drugs, and that your drugs are effective. Give me a drug that will help me attain fear of God.”

“I don’t know of any drug for fear of God,” said Rabbi Abraham. “If you want, though, I can give you one for love of God.” “That’s even better!” cried the other. “Just give it to me!” “It’s very simple”, the Rabbi replied…”just love your fellow man!”

Many of our traditional, Jewish texts teach that the fear of God will keep us safe and we will have no need to fear other people. In the world in which we live, most of us know that there are, indeed, people in the world of whom we are afraid and we’d also rather have a relationship with God that is based on love. That’s why I so enjoy the Chassidic tale I quoted. It gently turns us away from anxiety as our motivator and teaches that even in our darkest and most credible moments of fear the “faith” we must have is in our ability to love one another.

This day, despite our fear, despite threats, we must love. Certainly we must love our children, our families and our communities. This is a time to express our deeply rooted ability to care for one another and be kind to one another. We also need to push ourselves to broaden our circles and not allow fear to limit our love. Our only commandment about strangers is to love the stranger. This is not an easy command to carry out when we are burdened by fear of the stranger – and, still, we must. We must be role models of love and compassion for our children. We must be ambassadors of love in all our circles – large and small.