Last week, I wrote about Harry Chapin but, in truth, I have many favorite songwriters and performers and one of them is Neil Diamond. I love the varied styles of songs he wrote and sang. I should quickly add that I admired Neil Diamond’s work even before Red Sox fans at Fenway Park started singing Sweet Caroline after the 8th inning of every game.
One of Neil Diamond’s best known songs is America, a song about immigrants coming to this country. It is quite a meaningful song and there is one part of the song that I think is truly remarkable and I’m sure most of you have heard it and can hear it in your mind as you read this. Towards the end of the song, he repeats a line which he sang earlier: “We’re coming to America” but adds the word “today” to the end of the phrase. Then, while the word “today” is repeated by the back up singers, he recites the words of the patriotic song: “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing…each phrase is punctuated by the word “today’ sung by the singers until the end when he joins in with “of thee I sing…Today”. repeating the word several times allowing it to echo in our ears as he connects the experience of past generations of emigrants to the love of country we feel today.
The song reflects a remarkable quality about the word “today”. When Neil Diamond sings it, he is clearly making a connection between a “today” of the past and our “today”. When we read any quotation or hear any words spoken from another time which includes the word “today”, it challenges us to connect ourselves with the past and to realize in many cases that we are linked closely to the “today of the past’.
Think about the line from the Psalms: “This is the day the Lord has created, on it we will rejoice and be happy.” The word for “the day” is the Hebrew word hayom which in fact also means “today”. So, while the Psalmist is talking about the day of the Exodus, which is the context, we are reminded as well that the day we are reading or singing the line is also “the day”, and that each day is a day on which we should rejoice and be happy in God’s miracles.
This Shabbat, we read parashat Re’eh which begins with Moses telling the people about to enter the promised land: “Re’eh, see, I am placing before you hayom (today) a blessing and a curse.”
We naturally concentrate on the words blessing and curse but when we do that, we miss the impact of the word hayom.
Hayom, today. When Moses spoke those words, it must have seemed totally natural. But to us reading them millennia later, that word challenges us to feel the reality of the experience of Torah in a unique way. Those words are still being said “today” and the choices are still before us in our “today”.
The words which Moses said about the blessing and the curse are still every bit as true today as they have ever been. Each day we are given the opportunity to choose between blessing and curse. Each day we are presented with choices about how to live our lives, what priorities to choose, which path to follow; and while the choices we made yesterday do influence our path today, there is always the opportunity to turn around, for good or for bad, and make a different choice.
Next week, we will begin the month of Elul — the last month of the year, the month of teshuva, of repentance — ushering in the High Holy Day season. We think about the changes we must make and the choices we must continue in the year to come.
On Rosh Hashana, during the Musaf service, we recite the words “Hayom harat Olam”: today the world was called into being. This recalls the Rabbinic opinion that the world was created on the first day of Tishre and that the anniversary of the creation presents us with the opportunity to change our lives through teshuva.
However, we can’t wait for Rosh Hashana. The Rabbis taught that every day is the proper day for teshuva, for repentance. And thus each day we can truly say: “Today the world is created again.” For today, like every day, we are presented with the choices that will affect our lives — and affect our world — for days far beyond today.
Let the word “today” continue to echo in our minds as we consider the power and potential of each “today”.