Keeping focus

This is the time of year of turning, and sometimes the rapidity of the turning still makes me dizzy.

To everything, there is a season, turn turn turn…Pete Seeger/Ecclesiastes

Turn it again and again for everything is in it….Ben Bag Bag, Pirkei Avot

Turn around and you're two, turn around and you're four…..Malvina Reynolds, Kodak commercial.

When I was younger, I tried to take ballet lessons.  I wasn't much of a dancer, but I did like the form and the control.  Spotting was hard for me.  For those of you who've never taken dance lessons, spotting is when (theoretically), you turn and spin, you keep your eyes on a particular spot as you whip your head around, and this will keep you from getting dizzy.  Or at least, it will help you get less dizzy.  Neither was true with me!  No matter how slowly I took the turns, they made me dizzy.  So endeth a grand dancer's career.

This is the time of year of turning, and sometimes the rapidity of the turning still makes me dizzy.  The season has turned, the New Year has turned, and the Torah is being turned, from the end to the beginning.  It's the time of Simchat Torah, when Torah scrolls all over the world are turned and turned, until the left hand side is oversized with a story untold, and the right hand side is slight from just beginning.

Our perspective is turning, too, from entering the land, to entering the world.  It's good to remember that after the long journey of Deuteronomy, just a few short weeks ago, we ground ourselves not in the specific promised ground, but in ground itself, the earth, the adam, the Adam of life itself.

Turning is transformative, turning and becoming one thing after another.  The earth itself was transformed from a Divine yet singular energy, into a crowded, diverse, noisy, and human domain.  Even God himself was transformed, as God "created the human in God's own image, male and female God created them" (Bereshit 1:27). No longer was God alone, because now there was a mini-Me, a God-image, a blessed form, to do the things God couldn't, or wouldn't, so the humans needed to do it on their own.   There were still moments to come when God functioned in our world, but for the most part, God had transformed the Earth by turning it over to us.

Another year has turned, and with it, the opportunity to transform ourselves; to turn our heads around and see things anew.  And it isn't easy. Sometimes we fall because everything around us shifts and we have lost our "spot," our focus, as with the loss of a loved one or a job.  We can't turn too quickly, because we'll miss the details, and probably get dizzy anyway. We'll need time to re-stabilize ourselves, so we can walk straight and not fall.   If we turn too slowly, we won't change much at all, and we remain stagnant.  We each have to find for ourselves the right speed with which to transform and be transformed. 

At some point however, it's really important to stop spinning.  Stop changing perspective. Stop transforming.  Stop changing, in fact, at least for a while.  This is a point that gets overlooked, I think, because we have told ourselves for a very long time that change is good, change is growth, change is the goal.  Also, in our sardonic moments, we tell ourselves that you can't hit a moving target.

When we keep moving, we can't reflect. We can't internalize what we've experienced, and it's that very reflection that makes the experience important.  That's one of the purposes of these last Yamim Noraim, the "Awe-some" Days.  We had opportunities to reflect deeply on all the head-spinning moments of the last year, the times when we lost our focus.  Luckily, we get a regular respite from turning, too, as each week brings Shabbat, and we're able to adjust our focus for a day.

Now, as we've come out of those days of deep introspection, and re-turn to the turning of the Torah, turning to the beginning, to the start of so many things, may we withstand the dizziness of life, keep our focus, stay standing, but keep turning and turning to see the new and beautiful things around us.

Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems,

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