I recently had the pleasure of taking 40 young people on a Birthright trip to Israel. As we sat in the circle, I felt my turn to share approaching. There was a tightness in my chest as I asked myself a question that has turned into a mantra for myself: “Can I say this?”
There, in front of a room of my students, I threw down my pride and I opened up my heart.
“I came on this trip for one reason; I needed to get to Israel for free so that I could extend my ticket – I wanted to go back to my old Yeshiva (rabbinical school), see my rabbis, and try to refind my inspiration. The ticket extension process got messed up and I couldn’t extend.”
There was a pause. I felt my emotions well up.
“But what I found was that my experience talking with all of you, of seeing you experience Judaism and Israel…well, that was all I needed to find my inspiration again.”
The sages teach us that the air of the land of Israel makes us wise. For years now I felt like I had to go back to my teachers, go back to my rabbinical school, to try to find myself. But what I realized was that I didn’t need to go back to a place, but rather I needed to go back to a mindset, and to an experience – that of connecting Jews with their heritage and their homeland – to really find myself and my calling.
Many of us face the High Holidays with a mix of trepidations. Some are practical, like how many hours in synagogue and the cost of shul tickets. Rosh Hashanah is the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement. Judgement Day sounds like something from the New Testament or Hollywood. But surprise! It’s from us. The Talmud explains that G-d looks at us as individuals on that day and dictates the upcoming year for us. Who will live, who will die, who will have plenty, who will lack. In our western mindset we often relate to this concept with contempt, disbelief or fear.
In a Jewish sense though, this is truly living. Consider the real end goal of therapy; self knowledge. Knowing deeply what motivates us and moves us so that we can practically live the most true versions of ourselves.
Human beings crave wideness, freedom, space. And unlike animals, this craving for truth, for genuine expression, isn’t primarily spacial, it is mental. The entire psychological world is awash with the understanding that our mindset alone determines our happiness. Rosh Hashanah, and the entire season of the High Holidays is about cutting through the noise and getting back to our real purpose.
We spend Rosh Hashanah focusing on G-d and the idea that we don’t live in our little world, but rather are part of a massive, global concept of self expression. The fact that G-d created us demands us to be unique, to be us, and to be our best version. The 10 days or Repentance that follow are for us to recognize, based on the fact that we have a greater clarity on who we are, what things we need to change to become who we are. Yom Kippur is the day when G-d releases the spiritual negativity that we have brought on ourselves through our errors and mistakes.
The High Holiday season is the ultimate expression of coming home to ourselves, of recognizing the change we want and need isn’t in a remote location, nor held onto by someone outside of us. Rather, it’s about putting ourselves in situations and locations that speak deeply to us and resonate with us.
This year, challenge yourself. Don’t let the season pass where we, like sheep, just plod on through our lives. As yourself, “What is it that I really want.” Live life proactively, seeking out your desires, instead of reactively ticking off a to do list on a daily basis.
This is the eternal gift of the High Holiday season.