Yom Kippur draws near, and the word buzzing around Jerusalem is “Tshuva.”
Tshuva, tshuva, tshuva - frequently translated as ‘Repentence.’
Don’t stop reading. I know, if you’re anything like me, the word triggers a massive case of the icks.
Repentence is a drek-filled word if there ever was one, full of punitive and shameful connotations; its link to Yom Kippur evoking memories of insanely, long days standing in uncomfortable shoes at synagogue, where we obligatorily beat on our chests, commiserate about how awful we’ve been and silently debate how much longer we must suffer this self flagellation before returning home to starve till sundown. Isn’t that how everyone ‘celebrates’ their holidays?
So, I for one was thrilled to learn that dreary understanding of Yom Kippur is completely wrong. Being a sin-full people is not a Jewish concept. Judaism doesn’t tell us we’re bad. It’s tells us we’re good. It tells us we’re beautiful, that we’re blessed, that we have enormous gifts to contribute.
Turns out, we as a people have drifted away from our beloved Judaism due to….mistranslation. “Tshuva” in Hebrew, the language in which it was forever intended to be understood, means ‘Return.’
Return to what?
Return to you.
And who are you?
No less than a divinely inspired ray of Light, an individualized part of Hashem Himself. This concept knocked my socks off it was so resonant. Hashem is so wild about us that He set up a yearly date with us; indeed created the world in such a way that every year we must do ‘Tshuva,’ or ‘Return’ to Him and in so doing, to our highest selves.
What a love story it is between Hashem and the Jewish people! And nowhere can it be felt more than in Israel, for you have to be utterly deaf, dumb and blind not to notice Hashem’s hand in this place every day. So, imagine what it was like to be here during Rosh Hashana. Forgive me, words will surely fail. There are some experiences that simply cannot be contained by language.
Dressed in a long skirt, as though a princess in a fairy tale, I walked the holy streets of Yerushalayim shel Zahav (Jerusalem of gold) like so many before me. No cars. Closed shops. Gentle breezes. A warm wish from each passerby, “Shana Tova.” (Good Year.) It’s was a new year, but still a solemn day; the future was being written, and we all know the world is precarious now. But red pomegranates dangled from branches, blue and tangerine flowers bloomed, shofar horns sounded far and near from the numerous synagogues I passed. The Knesset gleamed in the distance. I was home, living the dream of so many generations past.
And then I arrived at shul, an unpretentious place, a converted classroom. People crowded to get in. We shared our seats, taking turns sitting.
“No, you sit!”
“No, you sit!”
And the sound! Never before had I been in a place where each person knew the meaning and gravity of their words. “Yeruuuuushalayim!” the people sang. My eyes welled with tears. Do you know the song? The song with only one word: Yerushalayim. Swaying back and forth like flickering candles, our eyes closed in concentration with foreheads furrowed, the harmonies exploded. Surely, our voices reached the heavens! This is what praying was always supposed to be: joyful and fervent, passionate and connected, real and grateful, present and full. “Yerushalayim! Yerushalyim! Yerushalyim! Yerushalayiiiiiiiiiim!” Then the clapping and dancing began! How to explain what it is to sing of your home, of your people, in your home, with your people?
While leaving, I met a little boy with shirt tails out and a lop-sided kippah standing on the opposite side of the gate. He looked at me and with his 5-year-old, little voice said, “Ee efshar la’avor!” (It’s impossible to pass.) And he crossed his arms over his chest like a security guard.
“Aval, yesh li tochnit l’aruchat tzohoraim,” (But I have lunch plans!) I told him.
“Hmmm,” he thought. “Beseder!” (ok) he said, hopping onto the gate and letting it swing open.
Walking down the stairs, I smiled and turned back to wish him, “Shana tova!” (Good year!)
Still hanging onto the gate he replied, “Uuuuuu’metukaaaaa!!!” (And a sweet one!)
And then, from my bedroom, just before dusk set in, I heard another shofar blast. Where was it coming from? I rushed to the meerpeset (balcony). There, on the street in front of my own home, two men walked, blowing the shofar in every direction, ensuring every one, even from home, had the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana. “Where am I?” I wondered. “How did I ever merit these magical experiences?” And then the wind rustled the leaves, and the sky began turning shades of purple and orange; and don’t ask me why, I knew the moment was wink from Hashem.
The chag ended. Still reveling from the holiday, I logged onto Facebook to see the outcry over TIME Magazine’s defamatory cover story, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” Published September 13th, that’s one way to say happy new year. Here we have journalism at its most irresponsible. Most will never read the merit-less story within, rather they will take the accusatory and damaging headline as fact and use it to demonize Israel.
Truly this is brilliant. Now, Israelis are criticized for leading their lives! For pushing forward! For looking up! What would the world have them do? Let the terrorists win, spend their days in bomb shelters and behave as a paralyzed, frighten people? This bogus story got over 2,000 thumbs-up on Facebook.
So, here’s an opinion of my own: TIME, since you’re clearly hurting for readership (as you’ve foregone the basic journalistic ideals of verifiable truth and impartiality in deference to sweeping generalizations, sensationalism and shock tactics), how about you just stick to pretty pictures?
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As a fellow democracy, why are Israel and Israelis flagrantly criticized when they simply attempt to realize these basic pursuits we all agree are just?
But here’s the twist: it doesn’t matter what they say. Judaism teaches there is blessing in the covered. We don’t announce right away when a woman is pregnant. We wait till the ink is dry before celebrating a new job or business deal. We get married under a chuppah. Right now, the world is covering our goodness, our resilience, our commitment to creating a good life for ourselves and for the world, and in doing so, we are blessed.
On Rosh Hashana it was written, on Yom Kippur it will be signed and in between, we have the opportunity to plant seeds for our entire year. We will not drink the media’s hateful tonic, and on Yom Kippur we will Return to ourselves and to our greater Self.
The Moshav Band has a lyric, “Return to who you are. Return to what you are. Return to where you are born and reborn again…” As I bring my fist over my heart this Yom Kippur, I will not beat myself for living. We apologize for doing wrong because those lapses take us away from the lights we were born to be. There is a person only I can become. There is a person only you can become. Hashem dreamt of us together and apart with a twinkle in His eye. We are here to realize those visions. May we all return and rise to who we are and never make the mistake of forgetting that whatever the cloak of darkness, we are blessed.