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Dvar Torah - Nitzavim

It's been quite a year. As we rapidly approach Rosh HaShana, we reached a point where introspection is a critical activity. However, equally important is planning for the big day itself. Here we find a quandary. We are sadly all, at this stage, experts in coping with the lockdown. We have a rich well of experience to draw from in handling these difficult times and conditions. And yet, as we approach Rosh HaShana, we find ourselves once again in a situation where we don't know exactly what to do, what to expect. We are told to trust our government, but in the meantime, as we await their announcements, we feel the overwhelming uncertainty of our circumstance.

Our sense of bewilderment and uncertainly is compounded by the fact that we did not expect to find ourselves in these straights once again. Last year, when we prayed that we would have a year free of lockdowns, none of us thought that a new strain of COVID would force us into isolation once again as we chase vaccination targets. And yet here we are.

At times like this, it is helpful for us to look to history. We usually say "may a year and its curses end, a year and its blessings begin”. We are accustomed to think of each year as a distinct unit in time. Sure, last year was terrible. But at least, next year will be better. But history doesn't work that way. And Jewish history never encouraged us to think this way. Instead, history unfolds slowly and gradually. There are rarely strict cutoff points. It is not usually possible to point to a single event and use it to define an era. When did the era of prophecy end? The answer is it gradually faded away during the second Temple period. When did the monarchy begin? With David or Shaul, or both. When did our ancestors go free from slavery in Egypt? When they slaughtered the lamb, or when they left in the morning, or when they crossed into the desert, or when they crossed the Red Sea. We tend to periodise, but life only rarely has strict cut off points.

And so, after a half-year spent mostly in lockdown and a year spent dealing with the consequences both of the spread of disease and of the mitigating practices chosen to constrain it, we find ourselves, seemingly, back where we started. It is this sense of despair that weighs on us. It is this sense of hopelessness and of our own disempowerment which leaves us without the motivation to improve. However, we are still in control of our destiny. I can't legally visit Allnutt Park when I want, for how long I want. However, I can still maintain myself in good health, especially mental, and I can approach the coming days, not just with a sense of fear and trepidation, and even hope, but with a plan.

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