Impermanence: Jewish Style

| guest blog, holidays, musings |

Sukkot is coming.  One of the hallmarks of this holiday is the flimsy homes we move into-temporary booths that we erect in a few minutes-with insubstantial roofs that allow in the sun and rain, and walls that shake as the wind buffets them. At the end of the holiday, in just about the same time that it took us to erect them and with some regret, we disassemble our temporary shelters.

Next week, the Jewish Meditation Center will co-host a respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher who will discuss impermanence.

Impermanence is a central focus of Buddhism.  It’s one of the Four Noble Truths, the very foundations of that religion.  What’s impermanence?  Nothing remains the same.  Ultimately, everything changes, literally everything.  There’s nothing you can hang your hat on, nothing that will still be there tomorrow.

In Judaism we have impermanence too.  In the very moving prayer services on Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur we say: “We are like a flower that fades, grass that withers, a cloud that evaporates, a gust that blows by and like a dream that dissipates.”   Also: “People come from dust, and to the dust they return.”  Wow – we are really impermanent!

But I believe there are three things that are not impermanent.  They are Judaism’s foundations.

First, there’s God.  We call God “the Rock.”  Rocks are solid and stable, so we use them as a metaphor for God.  God says in the Torah: “I, God, have not changed.”  From before time and space came to be, to after all time and space will pass from existence – God.  In the Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur services we proclaim: “You are the Sovereign, God alive and everlasting.”

Want to depend on something that was there yesterday, is there now, and will be there tomorrow, never changing, infinite and beyond all conception but still imminent, reachable, available here and now, active in history, and in constant relationship with you and all of existence?  That’s God.

Then there’s Torah.  Torah is the blueprint for the universe.  Before time and space existed, there was Torah.  When time and space pass away, Torah.

Finally, there’s the people we call collectively “Israel.”  As long as there are people in the world, we have a promise from God that Israel will endure.

Now there’s something to meditate about.

Len Moskowitz is a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University and currently translating a 19th century work of Jewish theology and mysticism into English. He has been meditating for twenty years.

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