Coasting Through the Highs and Lows of Life
A few years ago, there was an iPod contest called, “Where’s the app for that?” People were asked to submit their ideas for new apps, and the person who came up with the most creative app would get a new iPhone. As I listened, I began to think of my own app idea, one that could help in moments of social awkwardness, a strained relationship, credit card debt, or a failed business – or even something as simple as a messy house after Shabbat guests retire.
I’d call it the “restart app.” An app that could magically help us start anew. It would function like the “factory reset” button on our phone, which erases all the information enabling the phone to be restored or resold to another user.
“Tell me please,” I thought, “Where’s the app for THAT?”
Well, believe it or not, G-d already created the “restart app” for our lives. It’s called Rosh Chodesh.
I remember the first time I heard about Rosh Chodesh. The teacher stood before us and said, “Class, the first of every month is a holiday!” I chuckled because I thought she was joking. Then I looked around the classroom and realized everyone was taking her seriously. I couldn’t understand why. Nobody walks around thinking, “WOO-HOO! Happy June 1st!” If anything, we dread the first of the month. That is when the rent is due!
As Jews, we always seem to be looking for an excuse to celebrate a holiday, but what exactly are we celebrating? In this little holiday called Rosh Chodesh lies the secret to getting through life’s highs and lows.
Not only is Rosh Chodesh a celebration, but its observance is also the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish nation as a group. This was G-d’s “first impression,” so to speak. At first glance, this mitzvah hardly seems worthy of being presented to the Jews as “first.” It appears as something trivial in our eyes, but is very important to G-d. Rashi even describes this mitzvah as the foundation of Judaism, stating that the entire Torah could have started with Rosh Chodesh!
Rosh Chodesh is a mitzvah that engages our concept of time, which is of utmost importance since we live under auspices of time. We have daily schedules which require us to appear “on-time” for certain activities. Our work, meals, and family all revolve around time. The main demarcation of this realm is called a day.
The Torah defines a day as, “It was evening and morning – one day.” (Bereishit 1:5)
Therefore, the day begins at night. For example, we light candles on Friday to usher in Shabbat at sunset. The structure of our realm of time is a pattern of night and then day. We are constantly cycling in this night-day, night-day realm.
Everything in the physical world has a spiritual representation. We are constantly cycling in a night-day, darkness-light realm. On a fundamental level, we begin as fetuses in a womb of total darkness. After that, we are born into a life of light. More metaphorically, in our day-to-day life, we regularly go through good times and bad ones. We all have days when the sun is shining on us, and everything seems to be falling into place, and then we have days when suddenly everything seems to go wrong.
We have moments when we feel in control, happy, serene, and moments where we feel completely out of control, sad, and perhaps angry. We cycle in this way; the dichotomy of experiencing spiritual connectedness, while sometimes experiencing isolation and detachment from G-d. We all struggle with this on some level.
So why does it have to work this way? If I feel good about something, why can’t I just keep that feeling forever?
One glorious afternoon, I realized the answer. I was bike riding with my sister and our children. We rode all the way to Venice beach, where they have half pipe skateboarding. Locals and tourists from around the world watch as the skateboarders fly up and then down, yelling “WOO-HOO!”
I quickly realized that if you don’t go down, then you can’t fly back UP. Embracing the down, knowing that there will be an up, is the key to success. The down actually gives us the adrenaline and momentum to rise back up.
Rosh Chodesh is the moment where the sky is darkest. It is our lowest metaphorical point. It is also when the moon stops getting smaller and starts getting larger. That is called the new month. The light changes direction – it becomes brighter.
That is the concept that we celebrate. It is not a superficial, “WOO-HOO, it’s JUNE FIRST!” Rather, Rosh Chodesh is a celebration because it represents our hope of renewal.
This is why the very name for month (chodesh) is “new” (chadash).
G-d gives us the choice to start over, providing us with a message, and if we are sensitive enough, we will pick up on it. Hashem makes an opportunity to re-start and renew. It is the optimal time, spiritually speaking, to make changes in our lives and start over. But we still have to make a choice to press that “restart app.”
I know a man personally who had the courage to press that “restart app.” His mother survived the Nazis while giving birth to him in a forest. Later when they fled to America, they had nothing. They moved to upstate New York and bought a dairy farm that they couldn’t afford, but were slowly paying off the debt. Their days were spent milking the cows, and selling the milk in blizzard weather. On one particularly cold day, they spent over an hour loading up the sled with all the milk, as this was their only source of income. They began their journey to deliver the milk by sled, and after bumping into a chunk of ice, the milk spilled… all of it. The young man watched as the white milk disappeared into the white snow. At that exact moment, he said to himself, “No, I can’t do this anymore. I’m starting over.”
Imagine the fear he felt. Everything they had was in that farm, all their money, and all their resources. How could this man start again? Nevertheless, he started over. He pressed “the restart app” and changed courses. Today, that same man is considered one of the top doctors in America, serving the president of the United States.
In an interview with this doctor, he explains that his lowest point in life was the moment the milk spilled. It was his turning point. And now he attributes his extraordinary success to that one moment. His lowest point was actually his point of ascent towards professional success.
This is the gift Rosh Chodesh offers us.
Times might look bleack, but, Yeshuat Hashem keheref ayin – redemption comes in the blink of an eye (Brachot 2b, Shabbot 34b, Yerushalmi Brachot 3a). This famous phrase describes the blinking eye because when the eye is closed during a blink, it is pitch black, yet a millisecond later, we open our eyes and the light floods in. Similarly, on Rosh Chodesh, the new moon reflects no light, yet light is on the way.
Our lowest point is often the turning point that leads to the highest peak of life – towards the light, and closer to G-d. It takes a lot of bravery to press that “restart app.” On Rosh Chodesh, Hashem is sending us a message. Things are changing in the sky, and I’m right here to cheer you on.
*No names are mentioned to protect the privacy of the physician.
This article is based on the teachings of Rav Zalman Mindell.