Tag Archives: Yom Kippur

Please and Thank You

The Days of Awe, ten days on the Jewish calendar bookended by Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) couldn’t evoke more disparate emotions. Rosh HaShana is the world’s birthday. We read the creation story; we come around again to the sweet custom of eating apple slices dipped into honey; the final service of the new year ends with the resounding blasts of the shofar. And with that minute-long note still ringing in our ears as we leave synagogue, we turn to the day of dread that is in the offing: Yom Kippur.

It is called a day awesome and full of dread because it is the day we will be judged and our names will or will not be written into the Book of Life for one more year. Just one more year, God; not a decade, but just a year. Over the next ten days, will we atone properly? Will we do the work of asking sincere forgiveness for the times we bumbled, the times we hurt loved ones, the times we were stingy with our attention, encouragement and love? Will we do the even harder work of forgiving those whose own human errors seared us to the core? The music is haunting; the prayers stirring; the sermons move us to tears.

Each year one paragraph or another catches me by the shoulders, looks me straight in the face and takes my breath away. This year the paragraph came to call at the very end of the very end of the concluding service. How can we find words to thank You for Your goodness, and how can words alone be fitting thanks? How indeed does one paltry human express gratitude for being given another year to embrace our children, enjoy our friends, spend time with parents and siblings, pursue those endeavors that matter most? We will thank You with our lives; we will offer You the work of our hands.

We will thank You with our lives. That’s that line that took my breath away this year. What that line said to me was this: The task before you, Debra, is to shape your very life, day by day, interaction by interaction, kindness by kindness, so that it becomes a recitation thanks for the privilege of one more year of life.

I backslide not 72 hours later. But I catch myself: changing the tone of my voice, ridding myself of the easy habit of pissiness. Nothing I do may look like thanks yet, but the year is young. For all its imagery of awe and dread, Yom Kippur is a day of great hope. We fast; we confess; we atone. The slate is wiped clean and we begin again. And again and again; each day, one thank you at a time. Out of this, God willing, another year comes to be.

That Space Between Breaths

I wrote the following for another site — Red Room — where I occasionally blog. But why not share it here, too. Wishing those who will be fasting a meaningful time of insight and reflection and may all of us be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health, loving relationships, and worthy challenges.

I read once that the time of transition — moving from one physical place to another — is prime time for misplacing things. Last night’s homework goes a-missing between one class and another. Belts, cell phones, boarding passes are left behind in those distracted moments in airport security lines.

Metaphorically, transitions make for losing a piece of ourselves. We shift from one life stage to another: frazzled mother of high schoolers to bereft mom of one in high school and one in college faraway; happily working to panicked and unemployed; anchored and married to widowed and moorless.

If we are fortunate, what is eventually found on transition’s other side sustains us: we bask in the newly unfolding relationship with the child left behind and revel in the missing one’s new vistas. We make it through security belted, cell-phoned and ready to board. We find new work, new strengths, possibly a new partner to share life’s transitions with.

My yoga teacher frequently talks about the seconds-long pause between breaths, that moment between exhaling and inhaling when all is still, lungs fully satiated with oxygen or pleasantly emptied and awaiting the next inhalation. She urges us to notice that moment and appreciate it, to stay present and explore it, experience the fullness of being perfectly balanced if only for a second or two. I experience that gap between breaths as velvety blackness, a momentary slip of time when I am so focussed on the now that nothing else fills consciousness, even though what fills it is indefinable. A teacher once commented that God resides in that place.

On my mat, I recall her words. Teetering between breath and no breath I realize it is a micro-moment of death twinned with rebirth’s infinite possibilities. Perhaps in transition we lose nothing but instead embody, if only for a moment, everything.

Funny that I am writing this on the eve of Yom Kippur. The sages teach us that this twenty-five hour period is a mini-death. We are to wear white, the color of burial shrouds. We do not eat or drink, are forbidden from engaging in physical pleasures or adorning ourselves. We enter a space of time suspended between life and death, praying, atoning, hoping that our names will be inscribed for another year of life. We (hopefully) let go of old patterns and fill ourselves with the promising breath of new ones. We are everything and nothing.

At first glance the word “transition” brings to mind movement from one state of being to another. But perhaps pared to its essence, transition is its complete opposite: a moment of supreme stillness embedded with the promise of infinite movement.

For a Sweet New Year

Ramping up for the High Holidays I do not know how many posts I will be able to manage in the next few weeks. There is all that cooking to do, not to mention the harder work of soul searching. So if you look to the right you will see a new addition to this site — “Sermons” and then eight titles beneath it.

Took me a few hours to figure out the tech side of it (and a lot of help from the great folks at wordpress.com) but I did it — a compendium of sermons I have given over the past eight years.
(Don’t forget to read the link titled “Sermons” first. You’ll get a fuller explication.) Most of these talks were for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; some were not but they’re good food for thought just the same.

It’s a lot of reading; these were ten minute sermons after all. Peruse them as you wish. Or print them out (if that’s possible) and take with you to synagogue to read when the going gets slow.

I will return soon with book reviews, news of the children’s book, and whatever else will cross my consciousness in the coming weeks. Until then, I wish you all happy reading, meaningful fasting, and all the sweetness of apples and honey.