One way that I understand teshuvah is as the process through which we re-align ourselves - with our community, with G!d, and with ourselves. Every year my understanding of how to do teshuva grows and deepens. I'd like to share two teachings I am taking with me into the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, which begin tomorrow evening. Two teachings intersect on what it means to re-align and return to ourselves. The first is from a likely source, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the holy land. The second is from an unlikely source, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
Rav Kook teaches:
כל אדם צריך לדעת, שקרוי הוא לעבוד על פי אופן ההכרה וההרגשה המיוחד שלו, על פי שרש נשמתו...
Every person must know that he is called to serve in a way that is compatible with his unique
way of knowing and feeling, true to the core (root) of his soul...
Beautiful. Each of us was born with a unique life to live and only we alone can accomplish what we were created to do.
Rav Kook continues:
חיב אדם לומר בשבילי נברה העולם
A person is required to say, "the world was created for me."
Now this phrase from the Mishna (Sanhedrin 37a) is often translated 'the word was created for my sake', which is what is means here. But perhaps Rav Kook is engaged in some wordplay. For if we break the preposition בשבילי down to its component parts, noticing that the word שביל, meaning path, is embedded within, we could translate it as "along the path that is mine" (and mine alone). How liberating. The world was created with my path already in it, and there are things along that path that only I am able to rectify, including of course, myself.
When we recognize the truth of this, Rav Kook teaches that "this humble greatness validates the person and leads him to the higher wholeness which stands and awaits him, and as he takes steps on this confident way of life, on his own particular path, on his own unique 'route of the righteous ones', he will be filled with life courage and spiritual joy, and G!d-light will be revealed to him."
My friend and colleague Rabbi Nadya Gross has this little gem next to the photo on her Skype ID, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." Each of us has our own unique calling, our own unique path. Wow, you mean that I do not have to compare myself to the accomplishments and life journies of others. Of course, living life like that is a challenge.
A few mornings ago during my daily davvenen (divining?), I couldn't help but notice a finch hovering above the sunflowers in my garden. When the finch took flight into the distance, I wondered, "How does she know where to go?" Indeed, how do I know where to go?
One way is through my daily spiritual practice, which if I am so blessed puts me in a state of receptivity to guidance from the "true core of my soul", guidance that is intended for me and me alone. When I follow that guidance, I am doing teshuvah, re-aligning myself with what I sense to have been G!d's dream for me from the beginning. Perhaps before the beginning.
Has Rav Kook's name ever been mentioned in the same breath as Robert Hunter and The Grateful Dead? This could be a first. These lyrics are from the song Ripple, written by Robert Hunter, which lovingly express some of Rav Kook's mystical teachings, clothed in a melody by Jerry Garcia as sweet as apples and honey. Enjoy.
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of man.
There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone.
(Everybody sing: lai la lai lai lai...) Nice...the song ends with a niggun!
Shana tovah U'm'tukah - a sweet and song-filled new year to you.
Much love and blessings,
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and