Have you already chosen your word for 2015? The word that will focus your attention on what you want to do and who you want to be this year?
It’s not too late to choose. New Year’s Eve—the traditional time for making resolutions—was less than one week ago, and many promises made that night have probably been broken by now.
I chose my word yesterday, after realizing that it had been on my mind all weekend. I guess I needed a little time to overthink the matter.
It probably won’t surprise you that I came across the idea of choosing one word for the year on Facebook. Every Friday morning I spend some time scrolling through the week’s posts of The Originals, a writers group I joined for participants in Jeff Goins’ My500Words writing challenge. On Friday, January 2nd I read Laura Hile’s blog post about her word for 2015 and followed a link to the My One Word website, where I was captivated by the idea of changing my life through focusing on one word.
Rereading the end of that last sentence, I can actually hear how corny it sounds.
Please allow me to explain and, perhaps, to persuade you. I love a challenge.
In fact, challenge is the word that kept occurring to me as I contemplated my choice. A few weeks ago, my daughter invited me to join her in the 2015 Reading Challenge and I readily agreed. Last week I finished the Thursday New York Times crossword in record time and decided to try the Friday puzzle for a new challenge.
Here’s my word:
Etgar is Hebrew for challenge (noun), a modern word derived from an ancient three-letter root, g.r.h, meaning to challenge, provoke or stimulate. I chose a Hebrew word not because I’m a native Hebrew speaker, rather because the process of researching its etymology led me to consult half a dozen books, including an Aramaic dictionary not opened since 2013. Like I said earlier, I love a challenge, particularly one which stimulates the intellect.
Etgar represents what I want to do and who I want to be this year. I’m ready to face whatever challenges are ahead in 2015.
What word do you choose?
It is that time of year again in the life of the academic environment. During the course of several years relationships are cultivated and built and friendships deepened. You know in the back of your mind that at some point people will part ways and move in different directions. The university is utterly unique in its development of serious, passionate and meaningful temporary community. It is so meaningful that the reality of its transience escapes from the mind during the course of the several years you are all together. Yet, the finality of late May and early June start slowly creeping up on you and finally they arrive and you need to embrace the end and begin the process of saying goodbye.
How do Jews say goodbye? The Oxford English Dictionary places the origins of the word goodbye as a contraction of “God be with you,” with its usage dating to the 1600s. One can imagine a person turning to their fellow unsure if they would ever see them again as they departed for an uncertain voyage and summoning up their courage and their faith utter “God be with you.” This conveys a sense of closure and of finality.
In contrast, when we turn to the traditional statement uttered by Jews upon completion of study of a sacred text, and we ritualize a form of goodbye to that text, we recite Hadran Alach, we will return to you. A goodbye is never final in our lifelong engagement with Torah. We may have completed that chapter or that tractate and we may be moving on to a new chapter or a new tractate far removed from the subject matter we just completed but when that time comes to part ways, we hopefully and prayerfully say, we will return to you, Hadran Alach.
Perhaps it is worthwhile to explore the ways in which this traditional expression can be applied to moments of departure from our friends, colleagues, students and loved ones. If every moment of human interaction and every relationship nurtured is a journey in deepening our own life wisdom and experience then each completion of a time in the trajectory of a relationship is not that far removed from a completion of our interaction and engagement with Torah, which continuously deepens and transforms our lives.
When we say goodbye to a person we are not wholly leaving them and they are not wholly leaving us. The experiences shared and the lessons learned together will remain with both people throughout the days of their lives. We have the opportunity to return to those experiences and lessons at any point we wish to. Furthermore, the blessing of our ever-connected world enables us to quite actually return to the person whenever we wish through the multiple technological methods. The departure does not need to be final.
This year during graduation season my feeling of Hadran Alach is only increased as not only will I watch with joy and pride as the Class of 2012 graduates in just a few short weeks, but I too will be transitioning and moving from my position here at Harvard to a new life and a new community in Denver, Colorado. To all my students, colleagues and friends in this vibrant, intellectually and spiritually rich community: Hadran Alach, my prayer and hope is that I will return to you and you will return to me throughout the years and decades to follow.