Don’t Let Your Wonder Turn Into Closure | The Jewish Press – | Raphael Poch | 29 Sivan 5784 – Thursday, July 4, 2024

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When was the last time you were struck by a state of wonder in the past week? How about the past month? I’m not talking about simply being curious, I’m talking about being gobsmacked with an overwhelming sense of how simply amazing the world around us is. If we take a moment and reflect on creation, godliness, all of the mechanics that make up even the human body, or the minute details that have to fall into place in order to make our daily lives run smoothly, we should all be walking around gobsmacked all of the time. But we aren’t.

Well-known singer and Broadway star Ben Platt, a Jew from Los Angeles who was included in Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2017, included these very lyrics in a song he released in 2019 called ‘Older’. The song states, “When you are younger, you’ll wish you’re older. Then when you’re older you’ll wish for time to turn around. Don’t let your wonder turn into closure when you get older.”

It took me a while to fully grasp the meaning of this song and its lyrics. There are so many other examples of getting older that Platt could have used to describe the effects of getting older. For example, the Tefillah of Shema Koleinu, says don’t abandon us when we get to old age and our strength fails us. Platt could have used the concept of missed opportunities, of regrets we have when we are older, of the ever-present worry of missing out on things because when we are older we are less physically capable and have less energy. He could have taken the track set out by Robert Frost in his poem of “The Road Not Taken”, but instead, Platt focused on the concept of losing wonder.

As we get older we tend to wonder less and less about the world. Things become less ‘wonderful’ and far more expected, more routine. And we wonder less and less about them. We reflect less and less about them. It is difficult to stay in a constant state of wonder, it is exhausting, it requires energy that we simply don’t have because we have work, we have family obligations, we have all sorts of dust that the world kicks up at us, even though most of that dust is of our own creation. At some point, we have to stop wondering and simply expect things to happen based on our own experiences, what Platt calls closure. We can never have true closure if we still wonder What if? And yet we need closure in order to function in day-to-day lifestyle and not be completely exhausted by always wondering about everything around us. Children who are experiencing things for the first time are constantly in a state of wonder, and one of the blessings of parenthood is to see the world through our children’s sense of wonder once again. That is part of human nature. But where can we still find moments of wonder that can gobsmack us?

I’ve found that moments of wonder happen in life at endings, at new beginnings, and at times when everything either falls into place perfectly or crashes down around us tremendously. Thankfully those times are not so uncommon. Endings and new beginnings happen all the time. When a person leaves a job or gets a new one, at the end of a school year and the beginning of summer break, when finishing a masechta of daf yomi like what happened on Wednesday and starting a new one the next day. These moments bring us small amounts of excitement that emanate from the wonder of what will come next, and how can I use what I have learned to further my future success. They can even come in very mundane things, such as finishing a meal and wondering what will be for dessert. Wonder can come from mystery, but it can also come from anticipation. Wonder also often occurs at the same time that fear does. We can be afraid of the unknown, but we can also be in wonder about it. Or perhaps it is better to say we often wonder about the unknowable. While fear is often instantaneous, wonder takes time to ponder to try to grasp and understand. For me, this often happens on Shabbat. Shabbat is the day of the week when I have a bit of spare time and can allow myself to wonder. It is a time when most of the dust of the world settles, and we can connect with ourselves, our families, our spirituality, and our sense of wonder. It is a time in between one week of creation and another, where we turn off our creativity and simply wonder and allow ourselves time to breathe and open up our souls to the world. As our sages teach, it is a small taste of the next world, and therefore it is a time in between.

Times in between allow us to wonder. We can wonder in between endings and new beginnings, we can wonder in between our work and our family time, in between fulfilling our responsibilities, in between our sensation of solitude.

In my work at Aish, I often lead groups of visitors who are coming to explore Judaism and Jerusalem, and one of the things we talk about is the concept of in-betweens, of synthesis of the power of fire, after all Jerusalem is said to be the city of fire, and of Jewish Wisdom sharing its light with the world. Fire is the conversion of matter to energy. The process of that conversion gives us energy, heat, light, and the ability to change other things as well by sharing those elements. In the case of Jerusalem, fire was also the element of connection. Sacrifices were made by fire, the Menorah was lit with fire, and when the connection was severed the city was destroyed by fire. In Zechariah God gives the prophecy that in later times he will become a wall of fire to protect the city itself (Zechariah 2:5). Fire is a state of being in between, of change, of a place where one cannot have closure, but rather it is a state of wonder, of converting matter to energy. Humanity has been drawn to fire throughout history. Its sense of change causes us to always be in a state of wonder, but this state must be limited and controlled, otherwise it can be dangerous and cause harm.

We should always be able to tap into the fire and state of wonder in our lives, to tap into an in-between, and not have complete closure on life. This will allow us to continue to explore and continue to grow. It will allow us to continue to learn, to turn the next page, and begin a new masechta or sefer of learning. To experience the Torah and God’s gift of creation a new. To look at life with the wondrous eyes of youth, of continued potential. That is what Ben Platt meant in his song, and that is what we mean when we say al tashlicheini le’ait zikna. Don’t throw us into a state of old age and abandon us when our strength leaves us. Still gives us that sense of wonder of newness, of awe. Still allow us a state where we can find the in-between of endings and new beginnings. As we begin studying Bava Batra, the last gate, let us always remember the gate of discovery, Bava Metziah, which is the gate in between, a place in which we can continue to wonder.

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