Rav Bar Oz* (From Strength to Strength)
A Little Bit of Wisdom from the Boss
by Rabbi Jeremy Barras
Several years ago I got hooked on the music of Bruce Springsteen. I was drawn to his music not long after 9/11 when his album The Rising addressed the issues the country was facing after our reality was indelibly altered on that horrible day.
I began listening to his music because for me it was not only entertaining, but seemed as well to have a real soulful expression embedded in its ideas, its lyrics and its rhythms. Last year Bruce and his band decided to tour the world in celebration of their double album The River on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. At the concert, they played the entire double album from start to finish, and at the end, Bruce explained what The River album meant to him.
He briefly discussed how The River was about time — how at some point, time catches up to us all. He simply but poignantly pointed out how we each have a certain amount of time to live our lives, take care of our family, to try and do something good and leave our mark in this world. When I first heard him explain it I really didn’t think much of it. But since I listen to that album a lot, I have heard it over and over and it has really started to resonate.
In Judaism we have a lot of mile markers that we pass every year. Between all the holidays and observances and the recycling of our Torah portions, there are so many opportunities to ask ourselves where we were one year ago, what has changed, what has stayed the same, what we regret, what opportunities we grasped and which ones we missed. And though one year to the next may not seem like such a large time span, eventually we begin to notice that year upon year has begun to stack up, that time is passing by in meaningful chunks, that we and our children look older, and we may (like the Boss) question if we are using the limited time allotted to us to do a little good — to make the world a better place.
I think this is essentially the message of the Book of Genesis. We have three generations of patriarchs and matriarchs, not just one. We read through the Torah and see the unraveling of time, the gradual development of our people in its nascent stages, and the evolution of the idea of monotheism sprout into the birth of a nation that would revolutionize the way humanity understood the world in which it lived. And as we read through the chapters and verses of Genesis, we learn about our ancestors and their struggles to make the most of the time allotted to them.
As we enter the secular New Year, we again confront a normative time for reflection. Where were we in our lives at this time last year? Five years ago? Ten years ago? And as we contemplate these comparisons, we can ask ourselves if we are satisfied with how we are using our time, and if we feel that we are using the opportunity we now have to, as Bruce says, do a little good in this world (in Judaism we call that Tikkun Olam). The context of The River was time. It is also the context of our lives, and the tool by which we can measure and contemplate our satisfaction with the decisions we make everyday.
* The Barras family name was created during the Ellis Island Experience. Originally it was Bar Oz, meaning strength in Hebrew.