When Rosh Hashanah ends, we typically begin an epic countdown of the remaining holiday season. A week until we enter Yom Kippur, then less than a week to go to get that sukkah all ready and begin the outdoor festival, as I like to call it.
And yet, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are extremely significant not simply as place holders, but as an active time to engage in the process of teshuva, seeking forgiveness.
This time is one when we immerse ourselves in reflection—we look back upon our year, including our actions and areas of growth, and take steps to seek out forgiveness from our fellow man and from our Creator, as we prepare for the upcoming year, which has only just begun. We ask for forgiveness as we forge ahead with hopes for a year filled with life.
I want to note two important aspects of this time that I believe may normally be overlooked, or at least not given the proper care and respect that can yield reflection and change. In our fast paced lives—somehow moving incredibly quickly during this painfully slow time—it can be easy to lose sight or to experience tunnel vision, focusing solely on one aspect of our existence. Perhaps the ideas below will encourage you to be curious and to expand, or to at least familiarize yourself with a notion that may not be new, but may require reviewing.
1. The dialectic of the Book of Life: We hope to be written and for our year to be sealed in the “Book of Life”; that we may experience the blessing of a continued life in this world, and continue to live out our days. This alone is to be treasured. This alone deserves our unyielding gratitude; to forge ahead to be able to live a life of Torah, to live a life where we are able to grow and learn; to spend time with our loved ones and to experience a full spectrum of emotions. This is sacred. And yet, I invite you to seek out a life beyond simply living. This includes a balance, or dialectic (holding two truths at the same time)—we can push ourselves to truly live, while also recognizing the way this can be exhausting at times and recognizing that it is all right simply to be grateful for living. Both are possible. We can push ourselves AND we can accept where we currently are. We can reflect on the preciousness of life and also strive for a life full of meaning and values. Both are possible. I recommend writing down a dialectic list: Form two columns and write down in the first how you can feel gratitude for living, and in the second, how you can push yourself to live.
2. Neural pathways and change: During the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, we have changes in our tefillot (prayers) to solidify our active remembrance of what this time means. I believe there is tremendous power in making slight changes to alter our brains and ways of thinking. I remember hearing a presenter sharing about a research study done in an eating disorder treatment program; a client who engaged in the same restrictive behavior daily was asked to change a slight part of her routine when entering the cafeteria to eat. Thinking this would not amount to anything, she agreed, and found that her brain was almost instantly rewired and she had a greater opportunity to challenge herself. She had been so used to her pattern that when her behavior was interrupted, she was “reset” to identify how she wanted to proceed. I think of this opportunity with regard to the changes in our tefillot. These significant changes—especially throughout Shemoneh Esrei—provide the opportunity to actively remember this ten day period and what we are striving for. It can be so easy to forget during our busy lives; but this built-in opportunity for rewiring provides ample opportunity for us to take part in this time beyond simply going through the motions. Notice how your brain responds when you actively change your tefillot in a way that welcomes reflection and connection.
May you experience health, success, growth, challenge, connection and meaning, not only in this year, but in the years to come.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW specializes in working with those struggling with mental health concerns, body image dissatisfaction, disordered eating, eating disorders and also grief and adjustment. Temimah works virtually in private practice with those in New York and New Jersey. She also speaks nationally on the subjects above and is a Metro NY Clinical Supervisor for Monte Nido Manhattan. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, please visit www.temimah.com