Jewish Journal

Yom Kippur:  What Do You Paint When You Pray?

by Lia Mandelbaum

September 27, 2012 | 9:33 pm

During the High Holy Days, one of the most powerful moments for me is when we bow down for the Aleinu and declare G-d's sovereignty over all of creation.  Just yesterday, while walking over to an open space for me to lay my body down, I immediately became humbled.  I surrendered the desire to be in control and felt stripped of the bonds of my ego, as I let go of how I thought things should be.  While facedown and in a semi-fetal position, the image and sensation popped into my mind of myself as a baby floating in the stillness of a womb.  Through surrendering to the present moment, I felt safe, and an intimate connection with my divine inner child.  While I believe it is essential on Yom Kippur to focus on the task of understanding and acknowledging how we have wronged others and have not been true to ourselves, I also believe it is essential that we explore how to shed ourselves of the barriers and jaded ideals we develop in adulthood, while also holding onto the invaluable wisdom we have gained throughout our lives.  I believe that this too is a form of purification. 

Picasso once said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Picasso also said, “It takes a long time to become young.”  While it is by no means an easy task to see life through a new lens, the hard work is completely worth it because it is a process that helps us to strengthen our connection to Hashem and our authentic selves. 

Pause and Reflect

While in the process of writing this piece, I decided to read it to a friend to get his feedback.  He enjoyed the piece up until the point where I had quoted Picasso.  He said that there was no way he wanted to relive his childhood and that he couldn’t even remember most of it.  Immediately after he had been adopted as a newborn, he became gravely ill with what was determined to be a terminal, undiagnosable medical condition.  This forced him to face some of life’s toughest realities starting at a very young age, when he came to understand that his life depended on whether or not he took his medication three times a day.  He said that Picasso’s quotes relays this ideal and stigma in our society that everyone must reconnect with their inner child to find their connection to the divine.  While it may be part of my own path, it is not his path, nor is it the path of many other people, who did not get to fully experience their childhood due to reasons such as: illness, divorce, poverty and war.  So many children are given the message that their lives are less valuable because of the challenges of their circumstances.  No path is more righteous or divine then the other. 

My conversation with him reminded me to be mindful of the risk of generalizing and intellectualizing human experiences and emotions, and that we each have our own unique inner worlds.  When he bows down during the High Holy Days, we do not share the same experience, nor can he relate.  However, he can open himself up to feeling my feelings as I describe my experience.  We do find common ground in our desire to live from a place of openhearted wisdom, innocence, trust, simplicity and joyful wonder. 

I realized that there is tremendous beauty in how when we pray we have our own unique experiences, and that the blessing lies in the possibility of opening up and relaying these experiences to one another.   Although the High Holidays are over, each day offers an opportunity to reflect on how we engage with and impact others.  I believe that this pause and reflection is truly a lifelong journey, and not something to just be done during the holidays.

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Lia Mandelbaum is known for her advocacy, passion, creativity, and empathy, and is fiercely driven to make a difference.  She is especially passionate about impacting our...

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