Our Biblical ancestors lived through repetitions of the same experiences. In every generation in Genesis, younger siblings earned the favor of their parents and the jealousy of their older siblings. Consider the rivalries of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Twice, Sarah was taken from her husband by a foreign king with ill intent, and then Rebecca suffered the same fate. On Rosh Hashanah we read how both Sarah and Hannah struggled with infertility. Abraham went through a total of ten tests.
Different commentators wonder why this should be. Our ancient sages said, “Ma’aseh Avot Siman Labanim” — those patterns repeat themselves from generation to generation in a family. Modern scholars point to aspects of narrative and literary style. As we enter 5782, I believe there is another lesson we can learn, which is that life continues to offer us the same tests until we pass. The pattern of conflict between siblings was revisited until Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s sons, shared Jacob’s blessing, and then Aaron and Moses worked together to lead the Israelites.
The past two years have been marked by increasing fragmentation and isolation in the larger society and in our community, by our inability to agree on the basic realities of what our problems are, let alone how to solve them. We have all faced our own personal challenges and tests as well. It is entirely possible that we will be offered the same tests in 5782 that we faced in 5781. Those tests, as challenging as they are, offer an exceptional opportunity. The essence of repentance is that we are given the opportunity to “re-test” and to improve upon our answers to life’s questions. This is not only true for our Jewish nation, or for our community, but for us as individuals. This year we have the opportunity to do better.
Rabbi Joshua Heller is the senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai Torah.