There is no doubt that the High Holydays, and this month of preparation leading to them, places before us some challenging stuff. And that, in many ways, is how it should be. But just as, in the first of this seasons' reflections, I offered a way into the idea of prayer for those who find prayer challenging, it is important to grapple with a number of the challenging aspects of the spiritual work of this season because sometimes we let preconceived ideas about what they mean get in the way of making this work spiritually meaningful and transformative for ourselves.
And one of the biggest words that challenge us at this season is SIN. Just as with prayer, there is more to be said on this than can be encapsulated here, and so it is a theme I'll return to during the month, offering different ways to get past some of the commonly held misconceptions of this word that can get in the way of our willingness to examine ourselves and re-center ourselves as we prepare to enter into a New Year. But here, in a nutshell, is one of the ways that I understand sin. Sin is where we misidentify what we need to fill the hole we feel inside; our behavior, our reactions to someone, our craving or desiring of certain material things, are attempts to respond to a yearning that is, at its core, a spiritual one, but which we have misidentified as something else. We know that we have misidentified our need because, however much we try to address our dis-ease, our sense of anxiety, or anger and frustration, our sadness, our pain..., with the wrong things, the feelings don't go away.
In future Elul Reflections I'll return to this theme with more specific examples. But when you pause today for a period of meditation or reflection, consider this definition of sin, and allow some of the uncomfortable feelings that all of us, at times encounter, to arise. Over time, if you allow yourself to sit with them for a while and watch where they come from - what encounters are you replaying over and over again, what story do you weave to 'explain' the feelings that you have... give yourself permission to examine these more closely and more lovingly. If we get lost in the narrative we are more likely to continue to perpetuate the same stories. If we get angry or frustrated with ourselves at our shortcomings or weaknesses, it is harder to heal. But noticing the feelings and learning, over time, where they come from, can create the space we need to ask for guidance on how to heal so that we don't continue to repeat the cycle of behavior over and over. And that is where we can draw on prayer to help us. May I feel healed; May I remain calm and centered; May I be at ease...
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz