Yesterday was the 3 year closing anniversary of the sale of my NYC apartment. It marked the start of what I’ve called my “home-free adventure.”
Tonight was the start of Yom Kippur. the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
Although I didn’t plan it like this, I’ve come to realize that it is no accident.
My journey has been one of exploring a central theme related to the high holiday period:
What is home?
This period from Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, through Yom Kippur is known as the Ten Days of Teshuva. In English this is commonly translated as the Ten Days of Repentance.
These high holy days are marked by reflection and introspection. The questions are deep:
- who am I?
- how have I been living my life?
- am I fulfilling your purpose?
- how am I showing up?
- who have I wronged, and how can I make it right?
We repent. We ask forgiveness. We forgive. And we pray to God to inscribe us in the book of life.
If you do a Google search about the high holy days, this is what you’ll find.
There’s another meaning to this time.
The Path of Return
The word teshuva actually means “return.”
While this period is about repentance, it is also about returning.
Returning to where? From where?
This is where it all ties together:
These 10 days are about returning home.
This is homecoming season.
The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained that in the Torah, a sin refers to an act committed in the wrong place.
The Hebrew word for sin, like the English word transgression, means crossing a boundary.
The punishment for sin was exile.
In the historical context, the Bible is filled with stories about physical exile, starting with Adam and Eve, who were exiled from the Garden of Eden.
In biblical times, the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana heralded a call to return.
But home is not just a physical place. Home is a mindset, an emotion, a way of being in the world.
Home is an inside job.
It’s this understanding that leads us to the deeper meaning of Yom Kippur.
Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach speaks about how when we get caught up in the trance of fear or the trance of unworthiness we separate from our true nature.
We take on the personal of “the separate self.”
In this state of disconnection from ourselves, we don’t feel belonging with others: friends, family, community.
To the degree that we identify as a separate self, we have the feeling that something is wrong, something is missing. We want life to be different from the way it is. An acute sense of separation—living inside of a contracted and isolated self—amplifies feelings of vulnerability and fear, grasping and aversion. Feeling separate is an existential trance in which we have forgotten the wholeness of our being.
This sense of separation is what creates our suffering.
This year on Rosh Hashana one of the Rabbis of my synagogue admitted that he was not immune from the feelings of malaise that seem to have permeated during the pandemic. His heart felt contracted and he found it difficult to pray at times.
What he described was the somatic experience of the separate self.
In a contracted state, we are exiled from our own hearts.
You don’t have to be without a home to feel homeless.
If you don’t feel belonging within, you won’t feel it with others.
If you’re not at home in yourself, you won’t feel at home anywhere.
Home is an inside job.
On Rosh Hashana, the shofar calls us back.
The clarion call of the horn cuts through the noise of fear and shame and anxious chatter and pierces our hearts.
It is a direct access to opening the heart without the use of words.
With our hearts open, we begin the process of return. We examine our lives and how we’ve lived. We investigate who we are. We get silent to hear the calling of the still, small voice within that directs us where to go.
The message from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is that we are not our past. We are not our mistakes. We can change.
The Joy of Yom Kippur
All of this culminates in Yom Kippur, the day of prayer and atonement, when we afflict ourselves with a 25-hour fast. It’s a serious day.
But many people don’t realize that Yom Kippur is also a day of joy and celebration.
Why is it a celebration?
Because Yom Kippur is our homecoming.
We return home
to our belonging. to our truth. to our wholeness.
This holy period is not asking you to discover who you want to be or decide what your goals are.
The calling of this period is to uncover who you already are.
You don’t have to become anything else.
Under the shame, under the guilt, under the fear, you already are all you need to be. Today we come home to that person.
Through atonement — at-ONE-ment — we feel Oneness within ourselves, with the divine presence, and with all people and beings on this planet.
Even if you’re not Jewish, even if you don’t believe in the concept of God, this is an opportune time to reflect and consider how you separate and what brings you home.
We are in a liminal season, a moment of transition. And these moments of transition — whether in the seasons, in our life cycles, in the culture at large — call on us to examine who we are.
If you are celebrating. I wish you a meaningful fast.
And for all of us, I offer this blessing:
May we feel belonging within and without.
May we experience the peace that unfolds when we live in our truth.
May we move through life’s transitions with ease and grace, in flow with the divine rhythm.
May we know the feeling of coming home to our true nature.
May we be inscribed and sealed in the book of life. And may we choose to live in a way that honors our full aliveness.
open your heart space
find the truth of who you are
this place is your home