B’shem Hashem – From the Bedtime Sh’ma
Oh holy name of God of the one who wrestles with you Every move I make, it feels like you
When I'm stuck, your strength pulls me through When I look ahead you light my way
While you heal the wounds from my past
and every time I begin again, I feel you close at last.
According to the Sfat Emet, Rosh Hashanah can be understood as the moment right before the change. Rosh = before Shanah = time/change
I offer, therefore, that in this very moment in time, we are suspended inside an opportunity to dream this new year into being. This is the very moment of choice before transformation.
The Netivot Shalom, a 20th century Chasidic commentator teaches in his sermon about the 3 weeks leading up to tisha b’av that when we plant a seed, the shell/outer layer & in fact, most of what makes up the seed, completely decomposes. All that’s left is the tiniest life essence, the kusta d’chiyusa. Only once that drop of life is laid bare – it blooms into the green, living thing it was meant to become.
Similarly, scientists have discovered that when a caterpillar is completely ensconced in its chrysalis, it doesn’t simply grow wings and burst forth. The caterpillar deconstitutes itself almost entirely into a goo. Once again, only a tiny amount of the original caterpillar remains and that is what grows and transforms into a butterfly.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nora Neale Hurston says in her 1937 novel, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” The 10 days of awe between sundown on Erev Rosh Hashanah and the closing of Neilah are a time for us to reflect on the year that came before – was this a year of shedding our shells to prepare for new growth? Or was it a year of blooming, rooting, and growing? Was this a year spent like goo in a chrysalis? Or was it a year in which we took flight. Was this year that we are leaving behind a question or an answer?
This time is also an opportunity for us to look ahead to the year that is just beginning, right in this very moment. What kind of breaking down or breaking out do we anticipate for the year that is starting, sprouting, or enfolding us?
And beyond the anticipation, if we allow ourselves a moment of rest, a deep breath and some yearning, what can we imagine, dream and bless ourselves into this year? How far does the dream feel from what we can permit ourselves to anticipate? What small or giant obstacles impede the dream?
Judaism offers us rituals to help us move forward on the path to achieving our dreams. We have slichot, a chance to atone with pleas for forgiveness in beautiful poetry in the days or weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah. And once we get here, we have tashlich, when we transfer the stuff of our shamed and guilty consciences into bread or notes and send them out to float away or disintegrate in the water – letting go of the vestiges of regret that anchored us in the missed opportunities of last year.
This process of letting go to open up is not an easy one. New beginnings are hard. That’s why we sweeten this one with honey. And that’s why our tradition brings us to shul on these holy days - to fess up together, to ask for forgiveness together, to invoke God in our lives together, to commit to make changes together – witnessed and supported by our community. Not one of us has been perfect. Most of us feel trepidatious about stepping forward into this new year and starting this cycle as our imperfect selves all over again. This process of renewal is hard. So we don’t do it alone. We pull the fresh new year toward us with the sounds of others’ voices singing with reverence of returning to God, to ourselves, to each other ringing in our ears. In case we can’t bear to hear our own voices, at least we can be lulled by those of our neighbours in the next pew.
We are very good at spending this time beating ourselves up for our mistakes. Literally beating our breasts! Our personal and communal consciousness needs a jolt, a reset, a shake of the shoulders, a tenderizing of the heart. We remember our follies, our shameful moments, our missed marks and we wallow a little in them. But we should take care not to be so hard on ourselves that we become overly meek and forget our capacity for good.
Chasidic Rabbi Bunim of P'shiskha, Poland in the late 18th century taught that: “Everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: ְ I am but dust and ashes, (this part seems to be easy for us) and on the other: bishvili nivra haolam, The world was created for me. (To this we respond, “for ME? Yeah ,בשבילי נברא העולם right. He must mean somebody else.)
He goes on to say “from time to time we must reach into one pocket, or the other. The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each.”
Spiritual teacher, lecturer and author, Marianne Williamson, in her book, A Return to Love tells us famously that:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
...We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone...”
Ok. So now we know we are on the verge of something great. Maybe we could create a whole new self out of some essential parts. If only we knew how.
Soul Caller, Amy Oscar tells us that the most important question we can ask ourselves is:
What are you hungry for? (A.K.A. What do you want?)
Now we all know that sometimes this is the hardest question. We tell ourselves we don’t know what we want. We can find ourselves in this moment of potential and then, we hold ourselves back from wanting what we want. We say things like, ““I will want that when I know I can get it.” “I will allow myself to reach for the things I know I’ll be good at.” “I could never really have a life like that... so I won’t bother to try.” or “I don’t want to disappoint myself.”
Hunger/wanting is a healthy part of life. “We hunger for food to fuel the body; puzzles and information to stimulate the mind; experience to nourish the soul; connection to feed the heart.”
This year, allow yourself to be hungry. Allow yourself to imagine being nourished. If you don’t even allow yourself to imagine it, if you don’t ask God or the universe for what you need, if you don’t pray for the transformation, the new, the whatever it is you most long for... if you can’t even allow yourself to envision the You that you want to be and the life you want to live, how will you recognize the change when it comes?
Amy teaches that” when we can take the exquisite risk of allowing ourselves to sit and feel our emptiness – without rushing to feed it, bury it, squash it. Let ourselves want what we want - and experience the way that it feels not to have it. This is soul hunger. The most powerful force in the universe. It will provoke and propel us to make a decision. to be brave enough to proclaim (even to ourselves): THIS is what I want. And suddenly, we’ll be standing at the most powerful place in the universe: the ONLY transformational moment that exists. This moment.
And in this moment, we have turned around, returned to ourselves and the power and promise of the dark place right before we break out into the light. We have done teshuvah. Find ourselves face to face with God. Ready, or at least a little closer to being ready, to shout out our longings, our prayers, our hungers, or maybe even whisper them so only we can hear... we say them to ourselves and in the way that words, like magic, have power to create the world, God hears. And tender shoots and vibrant wings unfurl.
Break into pairs for these 2 questions and a blessing: 2.5 min per person per question (total 15 min) – invite anyone people to share with the group if they choose.
- 1. What am I hungry for?
- 2. In what ways is my life out of alignment with my soul’s longing?
- 3. Give your partner a blessing to help her/him nourish his/her soul.
Let’s come back to our seed for a moment. In one of my favourite books, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (no relation) she writes:
[Zen Buddhists] say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well - the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.
Holy Shechina, who rests here and in the wide, wild wilderness - the place of speaking and I pray of hearing: May we merit to receive the blessings of this year in our kishkes and marrow, in our blood and in our breath. May all that we will learn and all that will push, stretch and challenge us be for a blessing.
May these blessings nourish and flow through us, bringing strength, healing, energy, and openness.
And most of all, may we be blessed to let your light in.
Help us to open up.
Help us to see and recognize and claim the gifts you have bestowed so we can see ourselves as You and those who believe in us do; as powerful, giving, and successful.
May we be blessed to know and digest your gifts:
Parnassa, health, happiness.
And may they be shared generously with our family, friends and community everywhere.
Home and wholeness - שלום, joy and laughter - שמחה, lovingkindness and healing - חסד, holding and grace – רחמים ... and may we all merit to be oak trees, calling our truest selves into being.
Amen. Shana Tova.