The Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe are approaching. Jewish tradition tells us that we need to focus our attention on our personal lives, that the month of Elul is a time for reflection and self-awareness—a time, late in summer with autumn approaching, when we can sense the abundance of harvest and feel Divine Presence close to us.
During the High Holy Days, we spend extra time at the synagogue in prayer. The liturgy and rituals direct us to stop and reflect. The deeper meaning of tefillah (prayer) in Hebrew is about self-reflection and awareness. Within our day-to-day lives, so much prevents us from being in touch with and feeling connected to our essential selves, our relationships with creation and Creator that when we take stock of our lives, we often think about what we want.
However, Torah guides us to a different view: to ask what wants me? What is truly important to me and who do I ultimately want to be? Coming from a medium of love, spiritual questions can serve as an engine to self-discovery and growth. They are open, inviting and engaging, allowing us to search deep within, to sense and to feel. The goal of these questions is to awaken us to what really matters and explore how we can change our life-narratives—to remind us that we are the authors , the ones with the power to change our stories and bring greater shalom to our lives.
We are all living through a time of upheaval and uncertainty. On the one hand, this is scary. On the other hand, this is the precipice of a paradigm shift that holds the energy and potential for mashiaḥ consciousness: a new awareness of Divine Source and of how we are all partners with God in bringing to our world a time and place of greater love, greater harmony, greater justice and, ultimately, shalom. In order to change our personal narratives, we need to first understand how each of us can live and be the shift.
What in my life needs to shift in order to bring greater healing for self, for loved ones and friends, for my community and for my world? The High Holy Day prayer book, (maḥzor) repeatedly reminds us that we are not stuck in our karma, that we can change our mazal, our fortune, through teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.
Here are some questions that came to me while I was meditating on the High Holy Days. I hope some of these questions will be pertinent to you. While realizing that we cannot answer them all, I hope they will provide new insight about parts of the prayer service and that they will serve as prompts for starting our ḥeshbon nefesh (soul accounting) as we get ourselves ready internally for Days of Awe and the coming new year.
- Who are the people who mean the most to me,
- Have I ever told them how I feel about them and their importance to my life and being?
- Are there integral but fraught relationships in my life,
- If so, what can I do to bring repair, healing, and reconciliation?
- When do I feel most alive, most joyful,
- Which life moments feel truly meaningful, is my life in the here-and-now meaningful?
- What are my two or three biggest achievements in terms of personal importance and meaning since last High Holy Days, what are my two or three biggest mistakes since last High Holy days?
- What have I hoped to do but not yet realized,
- Do I persist with these hopes or let them go?
- What three pieces of advice did I give to myself 10 years ago,
- Is that advice still relevant?
In the Rosh Hashanah liturgy we have a section in Musaf titled Malkhuyot (God’s Kingship), fully experiencing God as Source of all life.
- What does that mean to me,
- Do I let Divine Source into my life,
- Into my being and presence?
Zokhrenu l’ḥayim, remember us for life.
- Choose life!
- How am I choosing life,
- Is my daily routine life-affirming?
Meḥayeh hametim, throughout our liturgy we acknowledge that God brings life to the dead.
- Am I living a zombie-like life,
- If I am, how do I enliven my time here on earth?
- What if this time my prayers do connect with the Transcendent?
- What if I let it all out and tell God everything in my heart, knowing that the Divine One already knows it all and more?
- What if I allowed myself to really feel unburdened and liberated during Kol Nidre—no longer bound to promises unkept?
- What if when I bow down at the Aleinu I really give myself over, what would happen to me deep inside?
- What if I really attached all the sorrows of my life to the wailing of the shofar and felt them disperse within me,
- What if I allowed the shofar to awaken something deep within me?
Our mystical tradition understands that in essence we are our neshamot (souls).
- If I am my soul,
- How do I contact this part of self,
- How/Where do I find my soul?
- What am I truly thankful for,
- Where do I find beauty,
- How/where do I experience awe
- How/where do I experience unconditional love?
If I really do teshuvah—if I really return to my authentic self and find myself in a groove vibrating in harmony with the universe, will this change me, can the process of teshuvah bring me to my essential self?
- What really scares me,
- Whom do I fully trust,
- What do I seek in my prayers?
- Do I sense the Divine in others,
- Do I give love to others?
- Do I try to control my world,
- Do I feel connected to the natural world,
- What power do I have over my daily circumstances?
- How do I want to be remembered,
- What am I grateful for,
- Do I trust my inner guides, my intuition,
- Do I need to forgive myself?
- When I close my eyes and concentrate on the Shema, what do I mean when I invoke Eḥad—One?
- Where are You—Ayekah? Can I truly say Hineni, here I am God, all of me, fully present before you?
May this New Year bring us abundant blessings and the power and potential to realize positive change in our lives, in our families, in our community and in our world.