I’m kind of in the weeds here. Trying to understand what these high holidays mean, I went online and Googled interpretations of Yom Kippur. I found this lame article on Huffington Post written by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffe, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “We know our urge to sin is powerful, we find comfort in proclaiming our errors, and we find hope in asking for forgiveness and trying to change our ways,” he writes. “When religion denies or ignores sin, it is irrelevant. When it acknowledges and confronts sin, it speaks to our hearts.”
Really this does nothing for me. Sin talk makes me squirm.
A friend of mine who has been a devoted student of Buddhism for a few years recently mentioned that she went to hear a talk by Norman Fischer, an accomplished Buddhist teacher who is Jewish. I looked him up and found his center in San Francisco called Everyday Zen. There on the homepage were links to recent talks he’s given on Jewish Meditation and the high holidays. This looked promising.
And indeed. I have only had the chance to listen to one of the lectures (there are three). It feels like I have finally begun to scratch beneath the surface of the meaning of this time of year. He discusses a book (name of book to come, I hope) that members were reading at Congregation Beth Sholom where the talks took place.
Just to give you a sense, the story of the Days of Awe as written by the rabbi begins like this.
You are walking through the world half asleep. It isn’t just that you don’t know who you are and you don’t know how or why you got here. It’s worse than that. These questions never even arise. It’s as if you’re in a dream. Then the walls of the great house that surround you crumble and fall. You tumble out into the strange street suddenly conscious of your estrangement and your homelessness. A great horn sounds calling you to remembrance, but all you can remember is how much you have forgotten.
Yom Kippur is like a dress rehearsal for our death. We don’t eat, we don’t drink, we don’t have sex. We exist as though we are at the end of our life and are suddenly accountable for all that we have done or not done. We admit to our shortcomings and commit to being a better person in the coming year. “This is the time of year when we remember we’re on that journey,” he says. “Remembering and mindfulness are really the same thing. Mindfulness really means the capacity to come back over and over again to what you’ve decided is important, to what you’ve committed yourself to.”
There is much more to this lecture than I can really deal with right now, but as I enter into Yom Kippur today at sundown, at least I have something more than sin talk to think about. Remembrance, mindfulness, courage, renewal.