Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur’

Last Three Days of the Jewish New Year Journey

October 5, 2010

Click to get free emails about the 60-day journey

The first time I read 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, it was summer 2006.  I followed his suggestions for thinking hard about my life, my personal goals, and how to enjoy the Jewish new-year season more deeply.  I made lists, wrote in my journal every day, read the daily essays, asked myself the daily questions, and did my best to do the daily exercises.  It changed my life!  And I learned a lot about the Jewish holidays, too.

Anyone can still sign up for Rabbi Jacobson’s free emails about the 60-day journey, even if you haven’t been following along over the past 57 days.  Just click on the image of the book.

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Tishrei 17: Quotes from Psalm 27

September 19, 2010
The Dead Sea Scrolls - Psalms Scroll

Image by onBeing via Flickr

The Book of Psalms is called T’hilim in Hebrew.

We recite Psalm 27 every day during the the first 50 days of the 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei.  Starting one month before Rosh haShanah and continuing daily through Sukkot and Simhat Torah, Jews around the world repeat the comforting words of the psalmist:

“Gd is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:2)

When you put it this way, our worries and problems suddenly seem smaller and less consequential, don’t you think?  I guess that’s the point.

There’s a beautiful waltz tune that was composed for the Hebrew lines of the following quote, whose meaning is already beautiful.  I’ve been teaching this one throughout the 60-day journey, every chance I get:

“One thing I asked of Gd, that shall I seek: That I dwell in the house of Gd all the days of my life; to behold the sweetness of Gd and to contemplate in His sanctuary.”  (Ps. 27:4)

One line of Psalm 27 that always startles is the tenth verse:

“Though my father and mother have forsaken me, Gd will gather me in.”  (Ps. 27:10)

Yep, that’s really what it says.  Maybe they really did forsake one.  Or maybe one simply grew up and moved away.

The final words of the psalm are comforting to many:

“Hope to Gd.  Strengthen yourself and be encouraged, and hope to Gd.”

Tishrei 13: Sukkot Is Coming

September 17, 2010

image

It’s Day 43 of our 60-day spiritual journey.  If you haven’t already joined in, please come aboard; it’s not too late!

Of all our happy holidays, Sukkot is the only one on which we are actually commanded, straight from the Bible, to Be Joyful.  Now that we’ve been judged on how we behaved during the past year (Rosh haShanah), spent ten days trying to make it right (Ten Days of Return), and got in touch with our purist selves (Yom Kippur), it is time to party.  Yes, it is!

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot always starts on a full moon, on the eve of the 15th of Tishrei. This year (5771) the holiday begins at sundown on Wednesday night, September 22.

Sukkot Basics:

1. Build a sukkah and live in it as much as possible during all seven days of the holiday.  A sukkah is a hut or booth (or “tabernacle”) that we build with a deliberately flimsy structure so that it is quite subject to the weather.   This small hut is built out in the open, directly beneath the sky, not under the shade or protection of other structures or trees.  To make it even more vulnerable, we leave lots of holes in the roof, quite on purpose.  The roofing material, or skhakh (schach), is largely what defines a kosher sukkah.  The skhakh is made entirely of natural material (detached from the ground), provides shade to at least 50% of the sukkah but leaves plenty of holes through which rain can fall.

Living in a vulnerable little house reminds us that ultimately our safety and comfort and happiness all depend on Gd.

My sukkah, with pile of skhakh ready for creating the roof

2. Every morning inside the  sukkah we take up the Four Species and shake them in the six directions.  These comprise the etrog (citron, pictured above), plus three kinds of branches: hadasim (myrtles), ‘aravot (willows), and lulav (palm frond).  The branches are tied together in a bundle that is usually referred to as the lulav.

3. An important part of observing Sukkot is hosting guests in your sukkah. The more the merrier!  In addition to our family, friends, and neighbors, we also invite the “Exalted Guests” in spiritual form, in this specific order: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.  These guests are called ushpizin, which is Aramaic for “guests.”  There’s a wonderful movie called “Ushpizin,” which I highly recommend, for learning more about Sukkot and just for pure entertainment.

4. On Sukkot we read the Biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).  Many famous quotes come from Kohelet, including “To everything there is a season,” “The sun also rises,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and my personal favorite: “Futility of futilities — all is futile!”

If anything in #4 above reminded you of a song, you’re well on your way to experiencing the joy of Sukkot. Singing and dancing, common expressions of joy, are a big part of celebrating this holiday.

Hebrew names for the holiday include

HeHag (The Holiday)
Hag haSukkot (Holiday of Booths, or “Feast of Tabernacles”)
Z’man Simhateinu (Season of Our Joy)

‘Tis the season.  No matter what’s been going on in your life lately, you must now be joyful.   Sing.  Dance.  Find a way.

Tishrei 9: The Melting Heart

September 17, 2010

There are many things to say about Yom Kippur, which begins tonight at sundown.   Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.  We remove ourselves from the distractions of the material world and spend one whole day in prayer, traveling inward toward our purest spiritual selves and our true home in Gd.

But I still have some Rosh haShanah liturgy on my mind as I approach the biggest Day of Awe.  The Hebrew text above comes from one of the prayers we recite at Tashlikh, the ritual of symbolically casting away our sins of the past year into a body of water, which we performed nine days ago on Rosh haShanah. Although I’ve read them many times at Tashlikh in the past, these words struck me particularly deeply this year.   As I stood on the shore of Walden Pond on the first of Tishrei and contemplated the chasm between the person I’ve been and the person I want to be, this simple cry to Gd jumped off the Hebrew page at me.  In English:

Our heart melts within us and becomes like water.
What can we answer?  What can we say?

(more…)

Tishrei 7: The Purist You

September 15, 2010

What would you look like if you pressed all the way down on your gas pedal?

The  following is from Rabbi Simon Jacobson, about preparing for Yom Kippur.  These questions are so important for all of us to ask ourselves.

What would you look like if you were at your best?

For some reason many of us know all too well what we look like when we are at our worst (that may be a bit too harsh, so let us say, when we are not at our best). But we are far less cognizant of our purest self.  Is it because society beats us up, or because misery loves company?  Whatever the reason, we are rarely dared to discover our fullest potential, and challenged to be at our best (except perhaps at work, but that’s for making money).  That’s why it’s refreshing — one can even say revolutionary — to know that once a year you are asked to do just that: to revisit (or discover for the first time) the real you — as you are at your purest, at your core.  When was the last time you tried that?  Do you have the courage to face your true self?

What would you look like if you pressed all the way down on your gas pedal?

— Rabbi Simon Jacobson

Hebrew notes from your devoted Hebrew teacher (yours truly):

Vocabulary:

Yom = day
Kippur = atonement

Yom Kippur = Day of Atonement

Pronunciation:

Yom: “yome”

Kippur: “keePOOR”

Tishrei 4: Returning to Pure Essence

September 12, 2010

From now until Yom Kippur, we are working on t’shuvah, a Hebrew word that literally means “return.”   (Sometimes translated as “atonement” or “repentance,” neither of which captures the real meaning.) (Sometimes it’s transliterated as teshuvah.”) We make an effort to return to our soul, which is our Divine essence.  It’s the quintessential self that we really are.

There is a part of us that is always healthy and good and pure — nothing can harm it.  Not any damage that may have been done to us in life, not even damage we did to ourselves.  We can always return to our true soul.  It is pure, has always been pure, is always intact, no matter what happens.

Personally, I find this one of the most hopeful, optimistic inspirations of the 60-Day spiritual journey.  I love being reminded that regardless of negative events in my life, this pure, unharmed part of me is always there.  I feel more secure  when I remember that my Divine essence cannot be hurt. What wonderful news!

Recognizing one’s true essence is not always obvious.  This is why doing t’shuvah requires effort.

Do you know your true, essential self?

Elul 29: Last day of 5770

September 9, 2010

Today we are halfway through our 60-day spiritual journey.  For the past 30 days we’ve been using the power of the month of Elul to consider what we accomplished in the past year, successes and mistakes, and what we’ve learned as a result.  We’ve also taken a close look at our Divine souls and how we might honor and cherish them in the coming year.

Most poignantly, perhaps, we’ve reviewed the past year through the lens of relationship — between ourselves and Gd, between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and our Selves.  What was good?  What hurt?  How shall we address the broken parts and make them whole again?  We try to emulate Gd by bringing compassion to all our relationships, with unconditional love.

Tonight, as the sun goes down before Rosh haShanah, the universe goes into a comatose state.  A slumber descends on all existence, everything comes to a standstill in cosmic silence, in apprehension of its contract being renewed.

Regardless of how you took advantage of the first 30 days of the journey, you still have 30 more days to experience spiritual transformation, thanks to the energy of the month of Tishrei, which starts with Rosh haShanah and contains all the “high holidays,” including the solemn and cleansing day of Yom Kippur and the week-long festival of joy that is Sukkot.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider subscribing to Rabbi Simon Jacobson‘s free daily emails about the spiritual journey.  Click here.

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness, and learning.

— Natasha Nataniela Shabat