The Cycle of the Year

Perhaps you remember that song from a few years ago (okay, maybe more than a few).... Some of the words that are flooding my mind at this point are:

"Like a circle slowly turning, like a spoke within a wheel.... ...the images you find, in the windmills of your mind."

I think that I associate that song with this time of year because of the 'circles slowly turning' image. In fact, though, it is not quite circles that I think about so much, but more the idea of spirals, and especially concentric spirals. I have come to picture the flow of time as following the surface of an imaginary cylinder. Time starts at one point on the cylinder (Creation?), and transits the entire circle that makes up the first level or layer of the cylinder, then rises one level when it comes back to the point of starting again, and continues. In this way, it makes a series of rising concentric circles spiraling up the cylinder from one end to the other.

If that picture is not clear (tto much like the horrors of geometry in high school!), think back to the grade school lesson you had on Thomas A. Edison, and the invention of the phonograph. In recording, he used wax cylinders, and the needle would move from end to end as the cylinder spun in a circle. You saw these cyiinders in all those film strips!

Another image even more people may remember is of a 'Slinky', the toy that 'walked down stairs'. This was a toy, essentially a thin wire spring coiled flat and wound into a cylinder, but when you released it on a stair, it would 'walk' down by having the spirals shift to the lower step one after another, and then repeat, eventually going down an entire flight of stairs.

Whichever of these images is clearest for you, think about the layers or levels as each being a year. Every time you make the circuit and pass the starting point, you are bumped up a tiny bit and move into a new level - a new year.

Now the interesting point to me is that you are always making the SAME circle or circuit. It does not change. You pass by exactly the same points on the cylinder, just at a higher level. The shape of the circuit or the cylinder does not vary. This seems to me to be like our year, the cycle of the year. We start, pass each of the holidays that we observe at given distances around the cycle, and then wind up returning to our starting point to do it again. At the same time, each year is different - we are at a different level, and the things that happen along that circuit are unique to that year. So each circuit is unique, but all are also the same.

Moreover, there is another commanality: each year passes over the same events or holidays at the same point in the circuit. If we think of something like Creation, and use the theory of the 'big bang' as a means by which to took place, we can easily imagine that the vast release of energies that occurred at the moment of creation (the starting place on our circle) would begin to radiate out in all directions. I can imagine that those energies are what bump the spiral up a level each year at the point of passing the moment of creation. In this way, each year is connected to creation, and partakes in it to some degree. Creation is still ongoing and affecting us! If this is true, we might consider that the 'energy' of that event is also somehow accessible or apprehensible to us as we pass that point on the circuit.

That, to me, is a comforting thought. As we pass the point on the circuit that has such a burst of power and energy, we are energized. We revisit that event both in our path theough time, and in our passage through Torah! The cycle of Torah readings also follows this spiraling pattern. We come back each year to the same reading, to the same story, but we read it differently because we have changed and grown and experienced things in the intervening time. So the Torah is the same, but eternally changing as we interact with it.

Time and Torah are wound up together, somehow connected and intertwined. And we interact with both.

An interesting idea to ponder as we come rapidly to the start of the new year, 5767 in just a few days.

Shanah tovah umetukah - a good and sweet year to all of you.


Rabbi Joe Blair

Sept 20 2006