[SCROLL TO BOTTOM FOR RABBI EVA’S MEDITATION]
There is a reason many people gained weight during COVID — they were feeding their anxiety, eating and drinking to numb the pain. Depression and mental illness increased forty percent this past year. In a world full of chaos, where the environment is disintegrating, individuals have become combatants; bodies are threatened by a powerful virus; stress, fear and insecurity are running rampant. We live in an upside-down world that challenges our sense of balance and groundedness.
But it is precisely in times of stress, conflict or confusion that we need to be tranquil and centered so that we can tolerate difficulty, hold disparity and dissonance, and be able to respond with strength and serenity.
While craving comfort food, we must find purpose in this shattered world, knowing there are some things we cannot control. What we do have is the power to change ourselves and find ways to support our well-being, including a different kind of comfort food: spiritual nourishment.
It is precisely because of the overwhelming stressors in our physical and political environment that we must turn to our tradition, to pray, to call out and express our deep anguish. We long to find meaning in suffering and light in the darkness. We want to feel centered and whole in the midst of the terror that swirls around us.
Now, as we enter the holy days before us, is when we need to enter sacred time to find solace, to seek answers, to lift up our eyes so we can see the world with some semblance of wonder and discover a moment to celebrate. As Roald Dahl taught, “Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” It is a time to shift our vision from calamity to possibility.
Our sages understood stress and chaos because they lived it. Yet, they marked the year with Holy Days as touchstones for connection, for memory and honoring the past, for reviving the present and instilling hope for the future. They created opportunities to share with others in psycho-spiritual renewal through ritual, prayer, study and song, each offering a different vision for Jewish growth.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur together encapsulate all of life, from birth to death, from celebration to grief…the days in between are for change—learning who we are, how we have behaved, where we missed the mark, who we have hurt and how to redeem ourselves.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur together encapsulate all of life, from birth to death, from celebration to grief. Rosh Hashanah is the Birthday of the World and the first human, while Yom Kippur is the acknowledgement of our end, a rehearsal for our death. The days in between are for change—learning who we are, how we have behaved, where we missed the mark, who we have hurt and how to redeem ourselves.
These Days of Awe are a microcosm of life, beginning in birth and celebration, tapping into gratitude and humility before the vast infinitude of Creation and its Source, what Kabbalah refers to as “Ayn Sof,” that which is without end. We take an accounting of ourselves and spend ten days rebuilding our relationships, realizing we have agency for change. Then on Yom Kippur we come, after making personal reconciliation, in white shrouds, brought to our knees in weakness, aware of our mortality. “Adam y’sodo mey-afar v’sofo leh-afar,” “Our origin is dust and our end is dust.”
If there was a time to engage in a healing ritual it is now, when we are stripped down to our basic core, fragile, hungry, dehydrated, calling out and praying—whether on Zoom or at the beach.
If there was a time to engage in a healing ritual it is now, when we are stripped down to our basic core, fragile, hungry, dehydrated, calling out and praying—whether on Zoom or at the beach. It is on this day that we fall on our face, prone on the floor, the ultimate surrender, whether to the Judge, King, Father or the Shepherd, or the Shechinah, the Queen, the Mother or the Shepherdess. The language is ancient, but the images provoke the existential reality we all confront, the need for acceptance, love and compassion. The desire to be forgiven for both intentional and unintentional behaviors that caused others pain. To face the guilt and shame we bury inside, renewed and re-invigorated for the coming year.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa would keep two pieces of paper in his pockets at all times. One said, “I am a speck of dust,” and the other, “The world was created for me.” In moments of arrogance he would look at the first paper, reminding himself of his place in the universe, that he was just a speck of dust, and in moments when he felt worthless, he looked at the other paper, reminded that he was born with a purpose and the world was created for him. These statements represent Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We are reminded, as we celebrate the New Year, that God wanted us in this world, and to celebrate the majesty of such a miracle. On Yom Kippur, despite all we acquire or accomplish, in the end we are but a speck of dust. It is what we do in between that impacts the outcome of our life.
We all die; we just don’t know when or how. All we can do is make every moment count. As Psalm 90 expresses it, “Teach us to count our days.” It means that we should make our days count.
We all die; we just don’t know when or how. All we can do is make every moment count. As Psalm 90 expresses it, “Teach us to count our days.” It means that we should make our days count. Through engagement with soul searching, study, prayer, meditation and deeds of loving-kindness, we elevate ourselves and attach ourselves to God, the spiritual skeleton that holds us up, keeps us steady, and reminds us that we are not alone.
These Days of Awe shimmer with magnificent liminal moments, with mystery, and extraordinary beauty, if only to let a few musical notes pierce your heart and release a tear. As Abraham Heschel teaches, “One must be overawed … ready to perceive eternity in a single moment.” In that moment, we are reminded of our humanity—both our vulnerability and our capacity for transformation.
I offer you a gift, a brief meditation to help you find peace in these trying times. To feel the breath of life and connection to Creation and its source, the Holy One. May you enter these “awesome” days and find new vision and vitality for the coming year.
Eva Robbins is a rabbi, cantor, artist and the author of “Spiritual Surgery: A Journey of Healing Mind, Body and Spirit.”