I’d like to think I have a pretty good sense of direction, but southern Orange County has been a real challenge. I’ve been spoiled by the gridlike street configuration of Los Angeles, where you can pretty much be assured that if you have to make a detour, you can cut north on a street, then west, then south on the next street and end up on the street where you began. You can avoid traffic jams because the streets run parallel. Pretty much.
Then there’s Mission Viejo, with a map that looks like a plate of spaghetti. You can go south on a street then find yourself heading west without ever having turned a corner. Parallel streets, contrary to what I learned in Geometry class, intersect. And heading west from the synagogue, you would do better to take a street further south because the street that’s further north dips way south and you can end up in Ensenada if you’re not careful. I have found myself wanting to high-five someone every time I’ve ventured to a new location and made it home without a hitch.
How have I managed? A Thomas Guide lives in my car. If I have enough warning, I can do a Google search for the address and pull up a map, but on the road, I rely on the Thomas brothers. No, I don’t have a GPS. I have heard so many stories of the signals bouncing off buildings and directing people to the edges of cliffs that I’m going to hold off for a while. Besides, reading a map is becoming a lost art, like reading a newspaper and getting ink on your fingers. I like technology, but I also like some things they way they’ve always been.
But family members have GPS instruments in their cars, and I’ve always enjoyed hearing the voice of the instrument instruct the driver with unending patience. Owners have even named their voices. One person calls his directional friend Jane. Another, the protagonist in a book I’m reading, has dubbed her Chloe and has even provided her with a back story. She’s become part of the family. Jane or Chloe or whatever her name may be is always flexible, always ready to roll with the vagaries of the driver. Did I miss the turn she insisted I take? Was the off ramp closed because of an accident? No problem. “Recalculating,” she will say, almost with a sigh. “Don’t worry, darling, we’ll find another way” she seems to be saying. You feel safe with Chloe.
I love the notion of recalculating. She never says, “Dummy, you blew it.” Or “didn’t you hear me?” Or “wake up!” She’s ready to accept that unlike her, we are human and need a little help now and then to get back on our path.
Recalculating is pretty much what we’re doing this time of year, isn’t it?
Since last Rosh Hashanah, we’ve been driving the roads of our lives, sometimes going on familiar paths, sometimes venturing into unknown territory, and sometimes we’ve had to rely on some kind of directional device to help us when we’ve been lost. That directional device is like an internal compass, orienting us to a true north that is based on some kind of moral right. When faced with a dilemma, we have looked within, checked our compass, and figured out which way to turn.
Maybe. Of course, sometimes a sunstorm rendered our compass inaccurate. Or we just ignored the thing altogether, made a wrong turn, and found ourselves looking back and wondering just how we got so very lost.
We’ve hurt others when we didn’t mean to. We’ve drifted away from family values that used to be so important to us. We’ve stopped doing things that brought us great pleasure, or we began doing things because we thought they would make us happy, only to find out how very wrong we were.
This is the time of year when God says, “Recalculating.” Not “Dummy, what were you thinking?” (God would never say that.) Not “didn’t you hear Me?” (although listening to God might have saved us a whole lot of grief) Not “wake up!” Well, maybe “wake up” – because isn’t that what the shofar is all about?
This is the time of year when we stop in our hurry to get from here to there and look around to see how we’ve gotten to where we are. And then we evaluate where we are. Are we happy in our place? More important, are we happy with how we got here? Or did we do harm to others or ourselves in our zeal to get to where we are?
I have a 14 year old Honda, and even though it’s a Honda, it still needs TLC. I can’t demand that it get me from Reseda to Mission Viejo and back reliably without taking care of it, visiting my mechanic more regularly, making sure its service schedule is up to date.
I also have a soul, and that requires just as much care.
How have we gotten to Rosh Hashana 5770? Have we run ourselves into the ground, without pausing for Shabbat? Have we not maintained our spiritual service schedule and then been surprised when we find some of our spark plugs not firing?
If this time of year is a time for teshuva, we should think about what the term teshuva means.
We are taught that it means both repentance and return. Return? Of course – return to the path God has intended for us. If we do teshuva during this holy season, we are repenting of past errors and resolving to pay more attention to our inner compass. And when we are lost, we are returning to the path in God’s Thomas Brothers Guide.
This is the time of year God tells us to recalculate, to look around, to consider where we are and to act to correct our directional error. For those of us who are directionally impaired, let me suggest that the best spiritual GPS around is Torah. You don’t need a subscription, you don’t need to name the patient voice nagging you to turn left in 100 feet, and you can even consult it when you’re not on the road.
And while you’re recalculating, I’d like you to consider where you are in terms of your spiritual home. For those of you who are here for the first time, welcome! How wonderful that your inner compass (or God’s hand) brought you here! May you bookmark the road that brought you here, so that you can return to us on Shabbat and festivals, for adult education or just to find community. Congregation Eilat has so much to offer, and the more you find your way here, the more you will learn that that is so.
And for those of you who have taken some time away from your connection with Congregation Eilat, welcome back! We are so glad you have recalculated, recalled the warm memories you have of this congregation, and have opted to return.
This is a time of year for homecoming, when children come home to their parents to enjoy Mom’s honey cake and to welcome the new year in the synagogue in which they grew up, when people who used to share in the life of the community come home to re-connect. May the recalculations of this season bring us together as a family, on a path to building a holy congregation that will touch the lives of all its members and sharpen the inner compass in each of us.