The High Holy Days are an exciting time for me. As I consider the year gone by and the year to come, I feel a rising sense of possibility. In our tradition, on Rosh HaShanah, the first day of the new year, names are inscribed in the book of life; on Yom Kippur, one’s \t’shuvah\, \tefillah\ and \tzedakah\–repentance/reorientation, prayer/yearning and charity/righteous action–can help one’s name to be sealed for a good year.
For me, this is deep metaphor: whether or not it is an accurate description of reality, it carries a profound underlying truth, that our awareness and actions help to shape our fate, singly and collectively. When we come together on Yom Kippur, the work we have done individually to repair whatever harm we have caused is aggregated and we declare our joint responsibility for the misdeeds and transgressions of all members of the community.
For a peripatetic people, the container of holiness is time, not space. In our tradition, each season, each month, each holiday, each day of the week (each hour, each moment) is aligned with a special sacred character deriving from history, nature, the cycles of agriculture and of the moon. In the last days before Yom Kippur, time seems both eternal and urgent. Entering the year 5766, I am mindful of repeating rituals and employing spiritual technologies that have held meaning for countless generations. At the same time, I can count in hours the time remaining before the end of the final \Neilah\ (literally, “closing”) service on Yom Kippur, for me the supreme collective spiritual experience.
During the \Neilah\ service, the entire congregation stands throughout, which can be challenging, as we have by then fasted from all food and drink for more than twenty-four hours. The holy ark remains open and the concerns of the body drop away. Feeling that the gates of prayer, which have been so wide-open during this season, are now closing, we sing and chant with all our hearts. Often, I have felt as if the entire sanctuary were rising off the earth with the combined energies of our intentions. At the end, when three stars can be seen in the sky, the shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded in a heroic blast, an ancient sound that electrifies every cell of the body, waking us, as the medieval philosopher Maimonides said of its call: “Arise, those who are asleep, from your slumber!”
One tradition is that the moments before the gates close on \Neilah\ are a powerful time to put one’s desires and intentions out into the world, increasing their chances of manifesting as the year unfolds. Some of my intentions feel too intimate to share, but I want to share three things that are foremost for me: one personal, one political, and in the fashion of my generation, one that binds the two in a way that cannot be untangled:
° I am working on a new writing project, “The Four Hungers,” at once a memoir, spiritual guide and cookbook. Its underlying idea is that to live is to hunger. Eating allows us to feel, to think and even to transcend our embodied existence. We are because we eat, but we also eat to satisfy appetites of a higher order. The book shows how each of our emotions, every concept we hold dear, all of our beliefs about the world and our places in it can be discovered on the path of hunger. Each chapter of the book attunes the reader to a different topic?s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions through stories that embody that specific hunger (such as desire, renewal, or consolation) accompanied by recipes and experiences (such as guided meditations and rituals). I’ve been getting wonderful responses from the people who’ve read my sample chapters. My deepest personal desire is to find an agent soon who sees the book’s true potential and wants to represent it.
° I perceive our country as very near the precipice, with a dangerous and unstable national leader and a population too long inured to passivity born of despair and confusion. I believe the biggest obstacle to change is our internalized view of power as residing outside ourselves, the way the well-oiled tongue of the propaganda machine slides so easily into the groove of our credulity. In truth, despite the difficulty of countering that lulling voice, Americans still have all we need to restore democracy: our awareness, our voices, our votes. I am determined to redouble my own efforts to sound the shofar’s wake-up call in the year to come.
° Wherever I am in the coming year, I want to renew my commitment to and participation in spiritual community. I see I have been disconnected and want once again to participate in the inspiriting exchange of energies the flows from connection to community. This is where personal meets political: from this connection comes the nourishment that will fuel my personal work as well as my part in repairing the world.
Almost everyone I know is deeply shaken right now, as the earth itself seems to be in upheaval. Some are in a place of pain and chaos, some are seeing the outlines of a new order take shape. In this time of transition, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, people of all faiths and none: may you be sealed for a year of every blessing. May your wishes come true. And may we live to see a world of peace and sanity prevail!