The Gift of Change
Deuteronomy Rabbah 10
כך ברא הקב”ה את עולמו יום שיהא יום ולילה שיהא ליל, בא יעקב ועשה את היום לילה ששקע לו הקב”ה את השמש שלא בעונתה שנאמר)בראשית כח( ויפגע במקום וילן שם כי בא השמש בא יהושע ועשה הלילה יום שנא’ )יהושע י( שמש בגבעון דום הרי שהצדיקים גורעים ומוסיפים על דבריו של הקב”ה כדי שיהיו הבריות יראין מלפניו … כך ברא הקב”ה שמים וארץ שיהיו מקלסים אותו מנין שנאמר )תהלים יט( השמים מספרים כבוד אל כיון שבא משה שיתק אותן מנין שנאמר האזינו השמים.
God created the world, so that day would be day, and night would be night. Along came Jacob and God made the day night by making the sun set early, as it is written, “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set (Gen. 28:11).” Along came Joshua and God made night day, as it is written, “Stand still, O sun at Gibeon” (Josh. 10:12). For the righteous, God adds and takes away from God’s word so that creation will be in awe before God . . . God created the Heavens and the Earth that they would praise God, as it is written, “The Heavens declare the glory of God,” along came Moses and quieted them as it is written, “Give ear O heavens” (Deut. 32:1).
At this season of self-reflection, our thoughts naturally turn to our own individual acts of the year gone by. But the teshuvah process climaxes on the Yamim Nora’im, when we stand together in packed sanctuaries, finding power in our solidarity as a community.
What in this world is set in stone, and what can be changed? As the seasons shift and we approach Yom Kippur, these questions become more relevant, more powerful. It is these questions that this week’s midrash seeks to answer. In a roundabout way, our midrash links a series of texts (only a few of which appear above) around the theme of inverting the natural order of the world for the sake of the righteous, providing examples of when day became night, and night day, when the sky traded places with the sea, when the sea was transformed into dry land. The midrash ends its journey through Jewish scripture with the opening words of Ha·azinu. Interwoven with the joy the midrash takes in connecting such disparate texts we find a subtle but clear message: Nothing in this world is set in stone. Not day, not night, not oceans, or dry land. Everything can change and be changed.
While at other times of the year this lack of permanence might induce fear, now during the season of repentance, it is a beacon of hope. Just as the world can change, so too can we. Our personal weaknesses, flawed relationships, and shortcomings, which can seem as certain as night and day and sea and dry land, can change and be transformed. Just as for the sake of the righteous, God transforms the order of the natural world, when we focus on refining our own righteousness, we too can be transformed.