‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come ’round right.
I happen to really like that hymn (by Joseph Brackett.) It’s meant to be a description of a dance, with the turning being a dance step that you can take. I’ve often pictured myself, twirling gracefully and beautifully ending up, in someone’s arms, in the valley of love and delight. That sounded beautiful. The reality is, of course, more awkward, especially since my dancing occasionally involves bumped elbows, stubbed toes and excuse me’s. At the end, the result is being sweaty and exhausted with no valley of love and delight in sight.
And while change isn’t mega big in Judaism, as we like our traditions and work hard on keeping them, there is something about that hymn. It’s a very Jewish concept, turning and changing until we get it right. In fact, the Hebrew word “T’shuva,” which is often translated as repentance actually means turning. We need to turn away from wrongful action and towards doing the right thing. We say the same thing about the Torah – turn it and turn it again for everything is within it. So, change (our changing) can be good.
At this point in my life, I no longer dislike change quite the way I used to. It would be foolish, like disliking air or disliking walking as a mode of transportation. These things are a big part of my life, and there’s no point in disliking something that’s always there. For instance, this year, once again, I have moved. I am in a new place, meeting new people, trying to grow new roots and build new connections. I am learning how to function and find things, to develop routines and achieve successes all over again, starting from square 1. You’d think after so many changes, I’d have gotten good at it – I’d be turning towards right action gracefully, in someone’s arms, and ending up in a valley of love and delight. Unfortunately, the bumped elbows and stubbed toes are very much still present.
There is a difference, though. Change is an expected dance partner now. I no longer dread each change and waste time and energy fighting against it. I may not do it gracefully but I do dance. I accept the need for change and I embrace the changes that come my way and I even, in Elul, try to make changes – to do the turning that I need to dance a bit better towards God and right action.
Don’t get me wrong! I still think this change-obsessed society often throws out the baby with the bathwater, cheerfully dumping traditions, beliefs, patterns and even relationships out the window like old clothing, no longer fashionable. I still prefer tradition to fashion. I hold stubbornly on to what I can in this mad twirling world. I think this is a good thing – not something I need to turn away from this Elul, but something I can turn towards as a piece of firm ground and a goodness.
But change is still there, still something I have to engage with. Over time, maybe I’ll be able to continue the journey I’m on, the one from wrestling with change to dancing through it. If I continue working towards true simplicity, a place where I just do God’s will without shame, without worry or fighting regardless of circumstance, maybe my dancing will become more graceful and the bumped elbows will be less. Eh, this place is a pretty good one. If I continue working on accepting change and embracing simplicity, maybe I’ll realize that this place – this part of my life – *is* the valley of love and delight.