My phone is out of memory. Again.
Every few years I buy a new phone with more memory, like, a lot more memory, assuming that this time it will have enough memory to last forever, but it never does. Invariably, I am faced with that annoying pop-up every few minutes reminding me that iPhone storage is full.
You have to understand, I don’t have a lot of apps, I don’t take a lot of pictures. But my children, especially the younger ones, when they see my phone on the counter, they know they could just slide their finger and access their favorite toy in the world – the iPhone camera.
Which by the way, it is insane that my children can so easily access my camera. Apple boasts endlessly about their phone’s security. Double verification, triple verification, quadruple verification, you name it. My iPhone is a Ft. Knox. You can’t access the phone’s calculator without facial recognition. But there is one feature that you can access without any code, without any double-checking, without anything more than a flick of your finger and that is the camera. Why?!
Okay, I’m sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.
When I see this iPhone pop-up, telling me I am out of storage, I know to go to my pictures. And this is what I see –
Four thousand pictures of Miri, that’s my two-year-old, four thousand close-ups of her nose. Then there’s a few hundred pictures of one child posing. Each pose is slightly different than the next… A few nice family photos. And then another hundred unflattering pictures of me as I try to wrestle my phone out of my two-year-old’s sticky hands.
So, I delete. And delete. And delete. Because after all, the pictures are all the same. I keep a few unique pictures, but what’s the point of duplicates?
What’s the point of duplicates?
And it made me wonder – if a photographer was walking around with me all day, all week, all year, snapping pictures, how many pictures would I end up deleting?
Probably a lot.
How many days would look exactly as the day before? Different suit, different tie. But the same old mistakes, the same old good deeds. Delete. Delete. Delete. What’s the point of duplicates?
There is a book called, Einstein’s Dreams, written by Alan Lightman. It’s a work of fiction in which the author imagines what was going through Einstein’s mind as he was developing his theory of relativity, his theory of time. The author paints for us a wide array of possibilities of what time could look like. Allow me to read you a few passages from one alternative conception of time:
“Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself… In the world in which time is a circle, every handshake, every kiss, every birth, every word, will be repeated precisely. So too every moment that two friends stop becoming friends, every time a family is broken because of money, every vicious remark in an argument between spouses, every opportunity denied because of a superior’s jealousy, every promise not kept.
And just as all things will be repeated in the future, all things now happening happened a million times before. Some few people in every town, in their dreams are vaguely aware that all has occurred in the past. These are the people with unhappy lives, and they sense that their misjudgments, and wrong deeds and bad luck have all taken place in the previous loop of time. In the dead of night these cursed citizens wrestle with their bedsheets, unable to rest, stricken with the knowledge that they cannot change a single action, a single gesture.”
Are we aware of how much our life is on repeat, on how the frame of each day looks exactly like the day before? Do we wrestle with our bedsheets knowing that we’re still stuck in the same ruts, still celebrating the same accomplishments of years ago, still unable to break free of the demons we have fought with forever?
Or do we blissfully snap picture after picture. Same smile. Same frown. Same today. Same tomorrow.
Isaiah, our most eloquent prophet, paints a picture of teshuva, of repentance. “If your sins are like scarlet, whiten them like snow; if they are crimson red, bleach them as wool.” Isaiah utilized two different metaphors to describe the process of change.
The second approach Isaiah references is a process of laundering, “bleach them as wool.” This is the more well-known approach to change. We’ve committed a sin, we have a characteristic flaw, and so we cleanse ourselves. We fast, we beat our chests. “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu.” As we reflect on our past, we become aware of the crimson red sins on our soul. As we beat our chests, we pour warm water on the cloth. As we beg G-d to forgive us, we scrub the sins away with soap. This is the well-known and well-trodden path of experiencing Yom Kippur – a day at the laundromat cleansing our soul.
But the first approach, “If your sins are like scarlet, whiten them like snow,” this speaks to a very different teshuva experience. What does it mean to whiten our sins like snow?
There is nothing more majestic, more beautiful, more poetic than waking up to a city covered in snow. Before the tractors start plowing, before the people on their way to work start shoveling, before the children start playing. Just white snow. A sheet of purity covers everything. The muddy path is now a white velvet carpet. The bare tree is now a glittering tower. Everything is covered in a fresh coat of white.
A significant portion of today’s davening does not focus on cleansing ourselves from the past. It asks us to imagine a beautiful future. “V’yeiasu chulam agudah achas, and all will become a unified society.” “Uv’chein tzadikim yiru v’yismachu, and the righteous will see and rejoice.” “V’simloch ata Hashem levadecha, and You, Hashem, will reign alone.” The liturgy begs us to imagine a pristine tomorrow, a reality totally unlike the one we are living. A snowy blanket covering all our shame, whitening all of our misdeeds, erasing all of the many things that hold us back.
And we walk outside onto this virgin snow. And our foot goes, ‘crunch,’ as it breaks through the frost. What a sweet sound. And we look at the imprint of our foot. You could see all the lines, all the contours of our boot. Every step is deliberate. Every line is new. Everything makes an impression.
Imagine living life like that. Imagine living life like every step is the first step on a fresh slate. Where every gesture is the first of its kind.
Allow me to once again read from Einstein’s Dreams, this time from a very different depiction of time:
“The shoppers walk hesitantly from one stall to the next, discovering what each shop sells. Here is tobacco, but where is mustard seed? Here are sugar beets, but where is cod? These are not tourists on their first visit. They are citizens. Not a man can remember that two days back he bought chocolate at a shop named Ferdinand’s, or beef at the Hof delicatessen. Each shop and its specialty must be found anew.
When it is time to return home at the end of the day, each person consults his address book to learn where he lives. Arriving home, each man finds a woman and children waiting at the door, introduces himself, helps with the evening meal, reads stories to his children. Likewise, each woman, returning from her job meets a husband, children, sofas, lamps, wallpaper, china patterns.
Late at night the wife and husband do not linger at the table to discuss that day’s activities or the bank account. Instead, they smile at one another as when they met the first time fifteen years ago. They find their bedroom, stumbling past family pictures they do not recognize… For it is only habit and memory that dulls the physical passion. Without memory, each night is the first night, each morning is the first morning, each kiss and touch are the first.”
Do you remember when you first held your newborn child in your hands? Would you even dream of taking out your phone and scrolling through Facebook as they cried for your attention?
Do you remember when you first held your spouses’ hand? Would you even dream of criticizing him or her and ruining the magic of the moment?
Do you remember one of your earliest memories, a hug you received from a parent when you were in pain? Would you even dream of laughing at their old-fashioned ways as they embraced you with their huge protective arms?
Imagine a world covered in snow.
Imagine a world where you got to start again.
Imagine a world where everything was fresh.
That’s what we’re doing here today. We do not have to take the same picture every single day of our life. We could live a life full of pictures worth saving. Pictures of new horizons, of growth, of change.
And yes, of course, we do change with time. I am sure we’ve all changed this year. But how much of that change just happens to us, is a reaction to life circumstances, and how much of that change is planned? Proactive?
For the next ten hours, the world, your world is covered in snow. It’s a fresh new start. What will that first step on the pristine ground look like? A tender moment with a child? An apology to a spouse? In what way will we be a better sibling? In what way will we be a better neighbor? A better Jew? What will it be? What will it look like? What will you look like?
Yom Kippur is an opportunity for a beautiful new start. But there’s a catch. The magic of Yom Kippur wears away. The snow melts.
So, if I could suggest if we want to take advantage of this G-dly gift of a snowy Yom Kippur, what we need to do before leaving this room tonight, is make a commitment. One small, tiny commitment, a change. Something that involves a stretch, but not too big of a stretch. Something different that we can do every day or every week of this year.
Because G-d willing, we will be back here next year, and we’ll be reviewing the photos that were taken over the course of the year. Will they be the exact same or will they be different? Will we once again repeat and delete? Repeat and delete? Repeat and delete?
Or will this be the year of change?