Opinion

It’s a time of renewal and repair | Interfaith Column

A Hasidic rabbi once said that the soul is like a rare and valuable coin that can become tarnished and lose its luster without proper care. However, if we shine and polish it, it becomes brilliant again. And when our soul – our true self – shines, we are happy.

As the long, light-filled days of summer give way to the shorter, more poignant days of fall, the Jewish calendar turns to the Days of Awe, and to a little of this “soul polishing.” A 10-day period beginning with Rosh Hashonah (Head of the Year, or New Year) and concluding on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), these days are meant to be a period of introspection. We look within, we look back, on the year just past, and measure our actions in the world. During these Days we are also called to repair and renew ourselves, and to repair relationships - with ourselves, our families, our communities, the world of work, and the world at large. We start repairing ourselves by looking within and back.

We are busy, but at this time of year we are called upon to ask: busy doing what? Too busy to nurture the important relationships with family and friends? Too busy to read a nourishing book, eat nourishing food, care for one’s body with exercise and rest? Too busy to pay attention to what is happening in our country, and the world at large?

According to Michael Lerner, one of the leading Jewish Renewal writers, this is a three-step process. Remembering is the first step – looking at what we have done and what we have become during the past year. We re-member, re-collect, re-connect, take a pause from our increasingly hectic lives to look at what we have done, and where we have been, the joyous moments and the trying times. The past year provided opportunities for anger or compassion, impatience or patience, maturity or immaturity. Opportunities to evolve to a higher self, a higher sense of purpose, or times that pulled us back to the animal rather than the angel side of our natures. How did we respond? The ram’s horn (shofar) is sounded during these Days to help awaken us from our busy slumber. “Awaken,” the horn is saying, “from your year-long slumber, awaken, and remember.”

The second step is to measure these actions against our visions of who we should and could be. We peer inward to see what is there, what has been there, what needs to be there, and what can be released. How have we treated others whose paths we cross on a daily basis? How have we missed the mark, whom have we hurt in the past year? This year we had choices with our days and moments. Choices about time, money, relationships. Choices to limit ourselves or expand ourselves. Choices to see the big picture, or a tiny picture featuring us and us alone. This step involves forgiveness: asking forgiveness of others, and granting forgiveness to others and ourselves.

Step three, is called teshuvah, (turning) and in this stage we determine specifically how we will change in the coming year. What obstacles stood in our way last year, what pressures did we yield to, what lower selves did we listen to, and how can we turn towards our higher selves in the year to come? After we have looked within, and confronted our transgressions, will we have the courage to face and confront the realities of our world, with the strength of a renewed self?

There is psychological wisdom in this process, as we move from reflection and remembrance, to forgiveness, and then to a commitment to renewal and to helping repair the world. By processing the year just past, recognizing our shortcomings, requesting and granting forgiveness, we can arrive at a renewed, strengthened spirit, a closer relationship to our selves, the people in our lives, and to the greater world in which we live. We now look without, at the world at large. What will we do to lessen suffering, what choices will we make with our time and energy?

The ram’s horn is sounded again, a shrill and raucous cry, a reminder that the new year ahead will require continual commitment and fine tuning, continued moments of renewal, and repair.

Jeff Brown is a member of Chavurat Shir Hayam and resident of Bainbridge Island.

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