HHD Reflection 5777 – Day 4

Rabbi Rebecca Birk
High Holy Days 5777

Here we are caught in these days of frenzied beginnings. Returning children to school, recalibrating into work and the new academic year. It is busy… when really what we want to begin is the return to yourself and the reflection that can yield a richer better year ahead.

This act of teshuvah, return, if you like is not just cliché or words or tired practice. This is the beginning of our lives again. Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda, Spanish rabbi and scholar with a particular interest in the heart’s work, wrote “Day’s are like scrolls write on them what you want to be remembered”.

This is the proverbial fresh start, opportunity to reboot and rethink how we live. I relish it. But it’s not always easy.

The world turns around us and asks for so much engagement, so much work and so much effort to earn a living, and respond to the political call to transform the world we find into the one we would want.

But also we know at the end of each day it is ourselves we return to. My favourite Midrash that is offered again and again at this season is from Pesikta Rabbati on Malachi (3:7); “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you”.

A King had a child who committed a grievous sin, and was exiled to a far country. After some time, the king began to yearn for his child, and sent a messenger, saying “Return to me”. The child replied “I cannot return, for the way is too far”. Thereupon the king sent a message back again: “Do not worry, but start on the journey and come as far as you are able. I will come the rest of the way to meet you”.

However we encounter God, however we view our role in the world, our families our lives. Returning to a renewed focus and concentration is a gift. There is time for this. Last week in the penultimate Haftarah of Consolation, Deutero-Isaiah continues his comforting prophesy to the Israelites from the vantage of his 6th century exilic existence. He’s promising times of expansive ease, when there will be opportunity and space to repopulate and settle.

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.

There is, says the prophet, time, space and love to think bigger for yourselves and your future. I understand this prophesy now with great nuance. We must think bigger, stronger and kinder. It behooves us and benefits us. Our new year can be thoughtful, healthier and more intentioned than our last. Returning now can yield a more coherent existence.

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