High Holiday Teachings & Meditations
Rosh Hashanah Day One - Zikaron Meditation - Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
What Do We Want To Be Remembered For?
Today is Yom Hazikaron - The New Year Holiday called by the Rabbis as The Day of Remembrance - But I would translate it as the Day of Remembering.
We begin with memory. We sink back into the group soul memory. As we move forward into a new year, we return to our most ancient memories, our mythic stories, our age-old melodies, our connection to the past. And in this embrace of our ancestors, we find the places where have been and the visions for where we need to go.
The Holy Ari taught “from the moment we are created each one of us has a unique role and purpose in repairing the world, a unique mission given to us from before birth. No one can fulfill the mission of another, to repair that which is required of another. “
And so each person comes into this world with some aspect of Self that needs to be discovered, worked on, perfected and adorned for it is the vehicle for Tikkun- for repair. And not only this- but that which we may perceive as a lack is actually the gift that holds the potential for Tikkun - for repair, for healing. It is the key to our lives.
And the Ari goes on to say that not only does each soul have a particular Tikkun - a particular reparation to make in this lifetime, for the sake of the world, but we all have a particular Tikkun to effect for each day - something different for each day. Each day brings us a unique opportunity for tikkun, for repair of the Self and of the world, for all is connected and interpenetrated.
And so I ask you to consider - what is your particular Tikkun? What is the repair work you need to do, for your own sake and for the sake of the world?
Perhaps you’ll know instantly, perhaps you have no idea. This is a big question. But let’s hold this as a living question - in process - throughout these holidays.
In the story of Joseph we learn that Joseph was left alone was the wife of Potiphar his Master. She approached him seductively, attempting to lure him to her bed. Joseph resisted and fled from her. The midrash says that at the moment of the seduction, Joseph saw the image of his Father’s face. He remembered his Father and fled from her. He is remembered by our chain of tradition as the Tzaddik, the one who overcame his lower, animal urges and followed instead his core values. And he did so by remembering where he came from, and remembering what his Father taught him.
And so I ask all of us now, to take a few minutes and to seek inwardly - let’s close our eyes if it is comfortable to do so and breathe deeply and consciously into these questions:
Is there someone you encountered in your life who was an important teacher or guide? Who shared an important lesson or gift with you? Perhaps it was a relative long since deceased, or a teacher, a friend or even a stranger on the way… Try to settle on one person. Without censoring yourself let the image of this person rise up in your mind.
Now - holding this person’s image in your mind, with a heart full of gratitude, say to this person: I remember you. What can you share with me NOW - at this time in my life? Can you offer me some guidance for the Tikkun, the reparative work I still need to do? Is there something I still need to learn from you that can help me do the repair work I need to do?
Shofar Service Teachings - Malchuyot, Zichront, Shofarot
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Shneur Zalman of Liadi said:
“Every year there descends and radiates a new light which has never yet shone. For the light of every year withdraws to its source in the Infinite One who is beyond time…but through the sounding of the Shofar and by means of the prayers we utter, a new and superior light is elicited… a new and more sublime light that has never shone since the beginning of the world. Its manifestation however, depends on the actions of those below, and on the merits and penitence during the ten days of Teshuvah.
The Shofar blows out and blows in.
It is a wordless cry of a people to the Eternal, and a vibration that tears through the calcification of the heart. Each series of blasts, awakening us to truths we need to remember.
This is the Shofar of Malchuyot - of Sovereignty
It calls out to the One Great Cosmic Force of the Universe
A coronation call :
V’hayah Adonai L’MELEKH al kol ha-aretz, bayom hahu yiyeh Adonai Echad u’shmo echad - and Adonai will be Sovereign over all the earth
On that day Adonai will be One, the name of God is One!
This is a shofar of consciousness, of awareness of the Divine unity that binds us all to one another. This is the shofar of right relationship to one another and to the Divine Source.
It cries outwardly, and it cries inwardly - to the sovereign nature within each of us.
Remember your sovereign nature - you have the ability to create a beautiful world that supports life for all.
Wake up to you Sovereign nature!
This is the shofar of Zichronot - of remembrance
It reminds us, that though we may at times forget
our truest nature, still the Eternal remembers who we are.
The deeds and essence of each soul are engraved in the fabric of the universe.
Today we can commit to change by beginning to remember.
The Bal’ Shem Tov states- Redemption lies in remembering.
Memory preserves the patterns of things we may wish to forget or fear we have lost, And - provides a bridge to new possibilities.
Today is Yom Hazikaron - the Day of Remembrance
And this is the Shofar of Memory.
This is the shofar of revelation. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
“God is not always silent, and man is not always blind. In every man’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal. Each of us has at least, once in their life experienced this momentous reality.”
Perhaps it has been on a mountaintop, or at a glorious sunset, at the birth of a child or looking into the eyes of your beloved -A moment of transcendence.
Atah Nigleitah - You revealed your Self, Eternal One - in a cloud of Glory, to your holy people allowing them to hear your voice from the heavens. You revealed yourself to them amidst thunder and lightning and appeared to them with the sounding of the Shofar.
And - the Divine continues to be revealed
To all who open their hearts, Who listen to the still small voice and
Who allow themselves the release of forgiveness.
Forgiveness of the Self and forgiveness of others.
This is the shofar of revelation.
The Shofar that cracks through the armor we have built around our most sensitive and beautiful selves- revealing the ineffable beauty of love.
Breath Meditation - Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
At this turning of the year- when we reflect on how we have lived this past year, and consider our aspirations for the coming year- we enter into these holidays as a kind of sacred pause- in the wheel of time. A pause for inner questions. How does one create oneself anew?
This is the time of Teshuvah- which means repentance, but it comes from the word- Shuv- which means return. This is the time of returning.
Let us begin by returning to the fundamental source of our existence- the breath that sustains us.
Levi Yitzhak taught:
We must always try to bring to our consciousness that from moment to moment the Blessed Creator, in great love and mercy, instills in us new vital force; from moment to moment the Blessed Creator renews our very being.
That is, at each moment the breath seeks to leave us, and the blessed Holy One, in great mercy, watches over us from moment to moment and has compassion for us, and does not let the breath depart.
When we raise this thought to awareness, from moment to moment we actually are created anew as a new creature.
Close your eyes for a moment:
Let us return to the breath,
bring your attention to the exhale- how it pours out of you with no effort. Hold the space after the exhale. Feel no breath.
And then, a new breath- an inhale leaps into the chest. This is the gift.
This is the change- this is the new vital force that has just been gifted to you.
As you focus on your breath, consider:
With each breath I am created anew- With each breath I am a new being-
In this present moment- in each new breath lies the seed for change, renewal, and re-connection.
Jonah - Alice Marks-Koshar
Why do we read and study the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur? Is it perhaps because Jonah is the prototypical person whom we can all identify with as we seek to mark our sins, those times when we miss the mark. In Judaism the word in Hebrew for sin is Chet but sin is a mistranslation of this word. What chet actually means is missing the mark. In these days of awe we so vociferously chant all the many ways we have missed the mark. We ask for forgiveness, asking ourselves and the Divine, the Creator, God (or whatever word you give the higher power) that has created Everything to forgive us our transgressions thus beginning a new year. So why do we read Jonah at this time. Is it because in Jonah the whole cycle of seeking and striving towards our higher selves is so clearly told? The cycle of the year ends and begins anew, encapsulated in his story that tells us that we always have the ability to try again, that we are capable of change, even if our behaviors have “missed the mark.”
In the beginning of this tale Jonah recognizes both God and himself. He understands the wickedness, the sins that God has commanded be eradicated, be eliminated. Jonah must seek these out, must seek them in their entirety and deal with them. But he is at first not up to this task and “flees” from them, from himself. In fact, do we all not do this at times because it is such a difficult path, one that we do not want to confront? Jonah, in fact goes in the direct opposite direction from that which God (his inner divine self) tells him to go. He flees to Tarshish – Tar being the substance that keeps you stuck in one spot. He is stuck in his own quagmire even though he seems to have gotten away with this ruse because there is a ship waiting to take him even further away from himself.
Unknowingly though, Jonah has thrust himself into the midst of the life force, the sea/water. A huge storm begins to rage all around him. The sailors, who represent those attributes from which he is running away, separately and all together, cry out to him and to their own self-interests, their own gods. They try to glibly toss their own burdens overboard to make it lighter for them(selves); in other words to ignore and repress the negative parts of themselves, which are raging all about while Jonah sinks lower into the depths of the vessel (the Great Nothingness), into darkness and despair. He goes to sleep, falling into oblivion, in order to cut himself off from these negative parts of himself (the sailors) in order to block them out, to not hear the noise they make rattling around in his head. He literally puts himself into a state of unconsciousness. He chooses to cut himself off from the truth of what is going on in both his inner world and that one around him.
How often does each one of us do the same thing in our daily life? Although seemingly the easier path we often choose to be unconscious, to avert our eyes from the truth within us and around us. But there is no avoiding the truth either for Jonah or for ourselves.
The sailors query Jonah as to who he is and his response is that he is a “Hebrew”. In the Hebrew language the word ‘hebrew’ means one from the other side, namely, ‘the other’ or ‘stranger’ – Jonah is a stranger to himself. But he also recognizes that the Divine/God is still with him. The sailors are now more agitated as the seas – the life force – grow more stormy. Jonah admits that he is the cause of their peril and that they should throw him overboard. After calling out to God to not hold them accountable for Jonah’s inability to confront his own inner truths, the sailors to heave him overboard without receiving recrimination or penalty. Jonah chooses death over change; death being metaphor for transformation. In other words the Divine Creator allows for both Jonah and those lower aspects of himself as symbolized by the sailors to separate one from each other without penalty; the sea once again becomes calm.
The sea, that force of life teeming with life, with living creatures, is what saves Jonah. Swallowed whole by a huge fish Jonah once again is in the belly/the guts of the beast in the midst of what would at first glance be the void but is, in fact, the potential of all life, the sea.
And it is here, at what may have been his darkest moment, that Jonah calls out to God: you made me aware of life which engulfs me/ in all its aspects/ both positive and negative am I now aware even though/ they threaten to kill my very being, my very existence/ separating me from You, the Divine within me and outside of me. Will I ever free myself of despair but sink into the depths and be lost forever?/ Yet I acknowledge my connection with You,/ oh Divine Creator of all that is/ The Light I can see,/ the light at the end of this darkness/ of missing the mark over and over again./ I understand now that/ if we allow ourselves to wallow in our mistakes/ we forsake our true nature/ one of balance and harmony/ one with both the Light and the Dark. I vow that I will continue this struggle to continually reach for teshuvah, of realigning myself with You.
At which point Jonah is spewed from the fish and lands upon dry land. By facing his own truths Jonah is tossed out of the darkness into light with renewed energy and the capacity to continue on his path of self-discovery.
The next part of the Book of Jonah tells us of God’s infinite capacity for Love, Justice and Compassion in that the people of Ninevah immediately hasten to the word of God as told to them by Jonah. They immediately recognize their “sins” and repent; they face their own truths and realign themselves to aim more clearly (kavanah) so as to not fall back into their previous evil ways – their states of ignorance. And so they continued to live by the grace of the Creator’s compassion and love.
This takes Jonah by surprise and angers him. Jonah holds on to his anger and resentments. He can’t let go of the narrative that the Ninevaites are sinners, not to be redeemed. He can’t bear to witness transformation in others because it is going to force him to change – to change his very own beliefs of the other, of God and of himself. He has yet to understand that he is one with God, with the Creator; he is not a separate entity, cut off from the Divine but is actually one with HaShem, the outer and inner self/divineness.
Jonah then goes east, to new beginnings where he is tested and tried again, over and over so that he questions his own desire to continue. Again, God in his absolute patience still tries to teach him that change is necessary and that compassion for one’s self and for others is the first step. It is here that the story ends when we learn that it is through compassion and love, for ourselves and for all living things that forms the core to this new found awareness that we each seek. First we need to acknowledge the need for change, then recognize this truth for what it is and then finally to accept ourselves and others even with all of our inadequacies. Love and Compassion for ourselves and for all sentient beings begins the process of healing and repairing – this work that we do every year during the Days of Awe – our own personal Tikkun.
This is the story of Jonah.
Let us now do a short, guided imagery to reinforce our own resonance with Jonah.
Starting this, please relax, closing your eyes. Counting backwards from 3, 2 1, see yourself or your light body in front of you.
● Know and sense what this feels like, to be in your light body. Open your eyes while holding on to this image, this sensation.
● Close your eyes and see, feel yourself entering the depth of the vessel Jonah is sailing on. What do you sense? Where is your light body. Breathe out. Now experience and see yourself falling more deeply into the sea. How do you feel? What is your main concern. Breathe out.
● See yourself as you experience being in the belly of the fish. Know and sense the darkness that surrounds you. Breathe out. Now allow your light body to step into this darkness. What do you feel, experience. What happens to the two bodies, your light body and the darkness merge? Breathe out 3 times.
● Live and see how as on the third day Jonah emerged from the fish’s belly, you now emerge. Experience It. What are you feeling.
● Sense, feel, experience and live your new self. the Divine power of love and compassion. How do they help you, help Jonah?
● Know and feel how you have changed through the merger of both your light and dark bodies. Know that this is the work of Teshuvah, of realigning ourselves especially during these Days of Awe.
Open your eyes and see the new person you have become by accepting the responsibility for your actions and knowing that through love and compassion you will continue to grow and gain kavanah or clarity for change.