At the Jewish New Year, we begin a process of return to yourself. This journey is the essence of the spiritual path and the way to Oneness.
Tonight is the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the anniversary of creation: of the world, and of humanity. As much as we celebrate God’s creations, Rosh Hashana also has a serious tone. In fact, the customary greeting on the holiday is not “Happy New Year,” but “may you be inscribed in the book of life.”
On Rosh Hashana, we pass before God in judgment; we are called to account for our words and actions from the past year. On Yom Kippur, God will seal our fate: who will live and who will die?
The ten day period that starts with Rosh Hashana and ends with Yom Kippur is known as the Asseret Yemei Teshuva. This is typically translated as the Ten Days of Repentance. We repent to our fellow humans and to God for our misdeeds, with the hope that God will forgive us and give us another chance.
I’d like to share another view of this period, which, for me, has greatly enhanced the meaning and significance of the high holidays.
The Journey of Return
The root of the word Teshuva means to return, and I like to think of this period as the Ten Days of Return.
The question you might have is: Return to what?
(1) Return to God
The obvious answer is “Return to God.”
Seek God where He is to be found, call on Him when He is close. — Isaiah, 55:6
The sages explain that even though the Divine is always close to us, we aren’t always close to the Divine. We do not always seek out God. On the high holy days, the Days of Awe, even Jews who typically don’t go to synogogue or consider themselves spiritual flock to services.
Called by the sound of the shofar, we return back to God, remembering that he is close to us.
(2) Return to Your Truth
The second aspect of return is a return to your truth.
What do I mean by this?
In our day-to-day lives, we often find ourselves caught up in anger, anxiety, fear, frustration, doubt, negative spirals and limiting beliefs. Meditation teacher Tara Brach calls this being “trance.” The trance of fear, doubt, or unworthiness.
When we get caught up trance, we separate from ourselves.
When we stew in anger or resentment, we separate from our true nature as compassionate beings; we lose our empathy.
Fear causes us to contract. We forget who we are.
The External Reflects the Internal
What we see in the outside world reflects how we feel internally. When we are in anger and fear we see the world as us vs them, because we feel that separation within ourselves.
Each of us has a different pattern in how we disconnect when we are caught up in the trance of fear or limiting beliefs. We may isolate. We may lash out. We may become critical or judgmental of others. We may berate others. We may divert our attention and disconnect from presence. We may speak harshly to or about people.
And, of course, we may do any or all of these things to ourselves. Often, we may treat ourselves worse than we treat others.
The common element underlying all of these patterns is that they reflect an internal separation. We separate from our true nature as loving, compassionate beings. We disconnect from empathy and understanding.
(3) Return to Purpose
When we are separated from ourselves and from the Divine, we are also separated from our purpose.
We get trapped in the cycle of doing, instead of being. We get wrapped up in churning out content instead of creating meaning and impact.
Without a grounding in our truth, we easily fall into the trap of shape-shifting to be what and who others want or expect us to be. We cannot stand in our purpose while reacting to the demands of others.
Separated from ourselves, and from the Divine, we lose our way.
The Call to Return
On Rosh Hashana, the annual sounding of the shofar pierces through the noise that clutters our lives and wakes us from the trance of busy, fear, doubt and separation. Called to account for how we have lived, we become acutely aware of the gift of life, and how we have used it or abused it.
To do Teshuva is not merely to seek forgiveness or make amends. Teshuva is a process through which we return to “home”: to God, to our truth, and to our purpose.
Ultimately, they are one in the same.