This week, the last week of the year 5769 by the Jewish calendar, began well – or so it seemed. On Sunday morning, it rained. Everyone hoped that this would prove to be a sign of things to come, that the drought which has plagued us for the past three years and lowered the water level of the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) to below danger level, had finally come to an end and that a year of abundant rainfall was in store for us. By Sunday afternoon, however, it became clear that in fact, the angels in heaven were weeping, in the knowledge of what was yet to come. An Israel Air Force F-16 jet crashed while on a training exercise and its pilot was killed. Worse news was to follow. The pilot was none other than Assaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, killed in the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy six and a half years ago. Just 21 years old, only three months ago he had completed what is possibly the toughest and most prestigious course in the Israel Defence Forces, the pilots’ training course, top of his class. I heard the news later on Sunday afternoon. I got back from court to my office and was bitching about some stupid little thing (I can’t even remember what it was now), when one of my colleagues came in with the news and shut me up cold. I started to cry. All I could think – all I could say – was: How could G-d be so cruel? I can only imagine what his mother, Rona, Ilan’s widow, must be going through. Can I imagine? Can any of us, who has not been through it? Alas, so many Israeli mothers (and fathers, sisters, brothers) have been through it. It is a tragic ending to the year.
Will this coming year be any better? Have I done anything, however small, however seemingly insignificant, to make it any better? I do know that the resolution I made last year, to guard my tongue from saying thoughtless hurtful things, has been too often broken. That is the fate of New Year’s resolutions, it seems. How many of us can truly say we have kept ours? Every year, we start out with high hopes of doing better this year, only to fail – if not sooner then later. And yet, throughout the month of Ellul, which precedes the High Holy Days, Jews all over the world return to the synagogues to recite the selichot prayers, hoping desperately to make up for the year’s backsliding. I read an article recently in which it was explained that we are like acrobats, crossing the chasm between two high points, on a very narrow tightrope. At first, when we are still near the starting point, the rope is high, but as we progress, and move away from the high point at which we started, the rope begins to sag until, halfway across, it is at its lowest point, nearest to the ground. But then, as the tightrope walker draws nearer to his destination, he finds himself climbing again, he makes one last supreme effort – and he has made it. So it is with us. We start out on Rosh Hashana with high hopes, bursting with good resolutions, but as the year wears on, we weaken, our resolution begins to falter until we reach our lowest point. But then we remember that in a few short months, it will once again be Rosh Hashana and we will again be judged. We try to pull ourselves together, to climb back to that high point on which we stood at the end of last Rosh Hashana, full of hope and determined to do better. We see the end of the tightrope ahead of us – so near and yet so far. We make that last desperate effort and somehow, we have made it to the finishing line. We have another chance.
We say in Hebrew כלתה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה – A year and its curses have passed, a year and its blessings will start.
May this be His will.
לשנה טובה תיכתינו ותיחתימו
May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.