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Questions to Personalize Your Rosh HaShana

September 26, 2016

In Hebrew, the word – “l’shoef ” – means both “to inhale” and “to yearn”. If I stop yearning – it’s as if I’ve stopped inhaling. Yearning gives me life; inhaling enables me to yearn.

If I stop yearning – I stop living.

What are you yearning for this year? In the words of Mary Oliver – “Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” What is your desperate, risk-taking yearning?

In Judaism, it’s all about the yearning. If you have one question to ask someone, try: “What do you really want in your life?” That will tell you a lot about the other. It’s enough to inform you if the two of you are going in the same direction. Of course the details will change, but a thread will remain constant. In one of our first conversations, Sandra and I asked each other – “Where do you see yourself in 20 years?” And though we were very young, just beginning our journeys, and in many ways clueless, the shared vision bound us together.

The vision of a better future, the yearning for progress, is not just about the future. Yearning for a better future – impacts and enhances the present. Right here, right now.

Often in today’s spiritual world we hear the expression: “Becoming fully present in the world”. It denotes an awareness and acceptance of the fullness of the world. An embracing – mind/heart/body – of everything that is happening.

The Jewish version of this spiritual approach would be: “Becoming fully present in the brokenness of the world.”

Soon the voice of the shofar on Rosh HaShana will remind us of this brokenness. Tekiah, Shvarim, Tekiah. Sandwiched between the single unified blasts of the tekiah come the shvarim, the broken interrupted sounds of the shofar.

Brokenness. The shocking paradox of this Jewish version of becoming present is that it does not lead to sadness, despair or depression. Quite the opposite. It leads to hope. Brokenness breeds yearning. The incompletion of this world leads to the vision and anticipation of something much better, and births questions of hope, excitement, and even a drop of suspense:

  • How will a better reality look?
  • How will this evolving unfold?
  • And most importantly – What role can I play in this process?

The world is bubbling with anticipation. The anticipation of a better future intensifies the immediate present. I live a better and more spiritual present right now because I am yearning for a better and more spiritual future. The more I yearn – the more I inhale – the more I live.

My aspirations imbue my present life with meaning and hope. For centuries, Jews prayed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem while mired in a powerless and persecuted existence. The faith that one day things will be better gave our ancestors life, courage, and hope.

The Gemara (Shabbat 31) states that at the Gates of Heaven we will be asked 6 questions. One is: “Did you look out for salvation – everyday?” Like a scout on a ship looking for dry land, were you awake to the Promise of the Promised Land? Were you alive to the harbingers of hope?

We are starting a new year. The questions this new cycle of time raises for us are:

  • What am I yearning for?
  • What risk will I take to achieve it?
  • What is my family/community/nation yearning for?
  • What harbingers of hope did I detect last year?
  • What are the first steps I can take to bring this yearning into reality?

Personally, I am yearning to bring Soulful Education to Israel, the schools and communities. The idea terrifies me – an American with very accented, imperfect Hebrew, who did not grow up here in the system. My inner voice whispers: “Who am I to try and change things?” But all yearnings are escorted by fears. I just need to inhale some more. Big breath.

The Books of Life are opening. Let’s not just breathe a little and call it a life.

Shana Tova,