Life has a way of keeping us busy. Whether it be affording a child’s tuition or the need to walk the dog, our obligations often consume our time. These necessary tasks hopefully include elements of greater purpose and productivity, but oftentimes they unfortunately do not. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, our attention tends to focus on the micro-arrangements of the everyday. And in doing so, we can lose sight of those former visions we had for ourselves; visions which we once-upon-a-time imagined we could realize.
Enter- a new beginning. We know full well that the myriad of smaller, occupying tasks are on the horizon. But for just a moment, in that relatively “clean-slate” existence, we are granted a blessing to recalibrate our frame-of-mind. For some, the appreciation of potential lies within other tangible, physical opportunities we may wish to accomplish. For others, however, the temporary freedom from distraction allows one to even see that which is usually invisible.
The Talmud (Sotah 14a) recounts a scene in this week’s Parsha with a striking sense of curiosity:
“R. Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel? Did he want to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? Rather, Moses said, ‘Many precepts which were commanded to the Jewish people can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. I wish to enter the land so that I can fulfill all of them'”.
As Moshe looked down from the mountaintop, what he envisioned for himself was not the site or structure of a new home, the rich agricultural opportunities of a fertile land, or the prospect a new business venture. Instead, what Moshe saw was the untapped potential of his deepest values. No longer bogged down for that instant with fetching water or supplying meat, he embraced the opportunity to imagine fulfilling what mattered to him most: G-d’s will. When we are provided the opportunity of a new beginning, what we learn is which values inform our aspirations; what ideals influence our mindset.
But that’s not to say that one’s physical needs ought not to be at the top of one’s to-do list. In fact, the Talmud itself implies that one first plow and harvest as necessary, even at the risk of lost spiritual gain (Brachos 35b). But for that moment; for that time where one can look forward with an uninhibited ability to view the landscape of their future, the question naturally poses itself: what is it that we picture for ourselves?
A new school year typically affects not only students, but the general community as well. What kind of mother or father will I be during homework time? How will I treat my new colleagues at the office or new neighbors down the street? What new opportunities are available this year to help me grow?
Especially in our times, that moment of clarity can come and go in an instant. A new job, a new location, a new social construct- each require immediate attention upon arrival, if not before. But even as that instant comes and goes, what still lingers -what tugs at our memory- are those thoughts of potential and opportunity: Are they still with us when we get busy?
“And it will be, when Hashem brings you to the land He swore to your fathers… to great cities… houses full of all good things… you will eat and be satisfied, but be cautious- lest you forget Hashem” (Devarim 6:10-12).
The key is to harness. Take conscious note of those thoughts. Implement their real-life permutations into a routine. Connect with others who share your sensitivity for those values. Invest time in new programs, clubs, or institutions. Sooner or later, one may merit to see those fleeting reminders transition from a vision to reality.
Beginnings bless us with a sometimes rare glimpse of the compass with which we set our own values. Whereas the busy-ness of life tends to cloud our judgement, when we have a moment where the clouds clear we have the opportunity to remind ourselves what direction we truly wish to pursue. After that, it is up to us to stay the course.
Whether you’re beginning the school year as a student or parent, you’ve moved to a new city, or you’re wrapping up a vacation: Let us cherish the blessing of beginnings- the opportunity to see our own potential, and to determine how we wish to fulfill it.