A Not So Imaginary Voyage

Yamim Noraim 2022

In 1999 Shimon Peres wrote a book in which he bends time to bring Theodore Herzl, the great 19th century Zionist visionary, on a tour of modern Israel.

Peres, who was Israel’s longest serving statesman, felt compelled to reach back into history in order to show off the country’s accomplishments to one of its imagineers.

The book which is titled, The Imaginary Voyage, brings Herzl into a future he only dreamed of, to show him both the wealth and the worts of the modern State of Israel.

Admittedly, I haven’t read the book. However, I am mesmerized by the fact that Peres felt compelled to put himself in dialogue with Herzl, to put himself in conversation with the individual who laid the foundation for the cause that he’d commit his life to accomplishing.

Put yourself in Peres’s shoes. We’ve all been there…We all have our Herzls — we all have those that came before us, believed in us, those who drew a blueprint for our futures and told the world we’d accomplish it.

I’d like to suggest that this is what the Yamim Noraim, the High Holidays, are all about.

During the High Holidays we put ourselves into a conversation with history, with Jewish history and our own history.

I recently had the honor of speaking with Natan Sharansky.

Sharasnky spent 9 years in a Soviet prison for being Jewish, 9 years at the highest levels of Israeli politics and 9 years running the Jewish Agency. For many Jews around the world, Sharansky is the embodiment of the shared Jewish experience — his cause united Jews around the world for a decade.

For me, the conversation with Sharansky felt like a conversation with Jewish history itself.

At one point in our conversation he said, “we have to spend less time trying to convince the world that Jews are great, and more time telling ourselves that we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“…more time telling ourselves we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

In our words, he was saying we need to spend more time with our Herzl’s, showing them our accomplishments — even if everything isn’t perfect.

Imagine if we were so proud of what we had accomplished in the past year that all we wanted to do on Yom Kippur was bring our past selves forward in order to look back together with satisfaction?

Last year on Yom Kippur we spoke about how the Kohen Gadol, the high priest, contextualized his work during the avodah. We said that the siddur starts the avodah with the creation of the world and makes its way through the narrative of the Jewish people, through Aaron, to the High Priest on Yom Kippur.

Today, I’d like to suggest that we too can contextualize ourselves on our own continuum. We can think about the blueprint that has been designed for us by our heritage and by ourselves.

Instead of focusing purely on all the things we could have done better last year, we should go on a not so imaginary voyage and think about all the amazing things we will do next year. What would I be proud of? What would I want to show off to myself?

Rambam (Maimonides) in his 12th century work on Halacha called the Mishnah Torah, famously asked “Who has reached complete repentance (Teshuva g’mura)?”

Rambam goes on to explain that he believes that complete repentance is achieved when someone faces a situation in which they transgressed in the past, but this time they abstain from the transgression because they understand that they had made a mistake last time — this individual course corrects not out of fear or lack of will, but a desire to do better.

Rambam is saying that the only way to truly succeed in the process of teshuva is to enter a conversation with yourself, past and present. “Aha” you might say to yourself, “we’ve been here before, but we know better now…we know this isn’t the blueprint we designed for ourselves. This isn’t the vision we had.” In other words, we need to contextualize our actions on our own continuum. We need to engage our Herzl.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought.

There is a line in Beresheit Rabbah, a Rabbinic commentary on Genesis written around the time of the Talmud, that I’ve struggled with which reads as follows : “Hashem gazed into the Torah and created the world.”

What does that mean? How could God have leveraged a text that did not yet exist as a blueprint for building a world that no one could have imagined?

Perhaps we can answer that question based on our paradigm above, a paradigm of bending time in order to dance with our destiny.

From the midrash we can learn that in order to get something right you first need to map it out. You need to set clear goals for what you want to accomplish, even if it isn’t something you’ve been able to do before.

“Travelers” posited Herzl “do not produce railways, but conversely, railways produce travelers.”

May we embark on laying the tracks for our goals for the upcoming year.

K’tiva v’chatima tova.

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