Tag Archives: teshuvah

Poem and Direction of the Heart for the Tenth Day of T’shuvah

By Marcia Falk (Berkeley, CA)

In her new book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, renowned poet Marcia Falk re-creates key prayers and rituals in poetic forms from a contemporary perspective for those in search of a contemplative approach to the High Holidays. Here is an excerpt:

What Do You Have?

Not this earth, not even dust—
Not yours, caw invisible crows
like doors swinging shut.

Not your memories, rising
and burning in the air
like leaf-dew in sun.

Not your thoughts, poking in
and darting out
like hummingbirds in the blossoms.

Only this bit of time (like clouds unforming)—
even as you point to it,
gone.

Nothing

Nothing. You began as nothing and you will end as nothing. And in between—everything, and nothing. In between—joy and sorrow, beauty and decay. Everything yours to partake of, yours to bear. Yours to see, to know, to give birth to—and to let go. None of it yours to have.

Not even you are yours to have. You belong to a wholeness so great you cannot even conceive of it.

No, it is not a belonging; nothing owns you. You are simply part of it. You came out of it and you will return to it. You do not ever leave it, you are part of it forever.

And this is your moment to be alive.

Marcia Falk was born in New York City and raised on Long Island in a Conservative Jewish home. She received a B.A. in philosophy magna cum laude from Brandeis University and a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Stanford.  A university professor for fifteen years, she taught Hebrew and English literature, Jewish studies, Bible, and creative writing at Stanford, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the Claremont Colleges. Her classic verse translation of the biblical Song of Songs was released in 2004 in a new edition, The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible (Brandeis University Press).

For more information about her work, visit: http://marciafalk.com/

The material posted here is excerpted from The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season By Marcia Falk (HBI Series on Jewish Women, Brandeis University Press) and reprinted with permission of the author and publisher.

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The Bridge Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

It’s a long bridge, and high,
with pilings deep in the water,
dug into the foundation of earth.
It takes ten days to cross,
by foot,
(more, with baggage),
and you have to walk it yourself.
No one can carry you.
People have been known to jump off
but miraculously, survive,
as long as they’re willing to try again
the following year.
Each person decides
how many times to pay a toll
and to whom
along the way.
And you pay with words,
tokens of your repentence:
“I forgive you.”
“Please forgive me.”
But what’s most amazing
is that you’re supposed to keep turning around
as you walk,
turning around
to face four corners
and everything in between,
turning around
to make sure you’ve seen every person
and the scope of your past year
so you can pay up and start fresh
on the other side.
And instead of getting dizzy
as you cross
you feel lighter, and cleaner,
more at-one with yourself
and all the other travelers
and the earth below the water
beneath your feet.
Venice has its Bridge of Sighs;
but this is the Bridge of Awe.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes — including journaling and creative expression — at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania. She leads a non-fiction writing group and works with individual students, and is continuing to write Jewish-themed readings for what she hopes will become a book, In the Spirit of the Holidays.

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An Argument for Jewish Observance

by Orah Friedland Zipper (Denver, CO)

I received a comment from “Anonymous” on my previous post (http://lady-light.blogspot.com/2009/12/archeological-find-proves-ancient.html), which was about the archeological find  of a 2000+ year old cave from the time of the Hasmoneans.  The commenter asked why that could be a reason to become a religious  Jew.  Good question.  To the average non-Jewish person, perhaps, the find might be interesting in a general way; to an archaeologist or historian, it would be interesting as a historical find which would validate and increase our knowledge of the past.

For a Jew, however, such a find as this means so much more.

Look at it this way: we live today in the “Information Age,” right?  We are bombarded with information and have been for years, through the media–through radio, television and newspapers, and in our high-technology era on the Internet through virtual news sites, blogs and now social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  How can we assimilate all this? How do we know what is truth and what is fiction?  And, for that matter, how can we know how to behave, in general, and how to react to events?

Now, we Jews have been blessed with a ‘code book’ which we’ve had for thousands of years, which tells us how to act, and tells us why we are here on this Earth.  This book is called the Torah.  It consists of the Written and the Oral Law, as well as the history of our people.

In our ‘modern’ times, however, people are constantly questioning and arguing religion versus science.  Which one offers the real explanation for the existence of the world? Now to me, there is very little contradiction between science and religion–they are one. Both science and the Torah are a means of explaining the truth of existence.  The more we learn things through scientific study (think ‘Big Bang’ and ‘Quantum Theory’), the more we understand about the nature of G-d (can you tell I’m reading Gerald Schroeder’s books?), and the more it seems to (yikes!) match the depiction of G-d as written in the Torah.

But you’d never know it by listening, reading or watching debates on which one, science or religion, is “correct.” This can–coupled with global anti-Semitism towards Jews and Israel, (which according to many can ‘do no right’ in this world)– really confuse one, especially someone who might be searching for the meaning of his existence.  Doubts abound.  Are any of the religions valid? Maybe Judaism is no more valid than any other major religion?

And then, a Jew goes to the kotel and has a “spiritual experience.” Or a Jew goes to a grave of one of our Tzaddikim, prays before the grave, and is greatly moved–by something—what? Or he visits and walks around, say, Emek ha-Elah, where the future King David, as a young boy slew the giant Goliath, and he (the visitor) is in awe, and his soul is stirred.

Or, a secular Jew, who went through life without a strong connection to his Jewishness, unearths a two-thousand-year-old cave while digging out his basement, which he discovers is the burial place of the last Hasmonean king.  Furthermore, the cave has an inscription on the wall in his people’s alt-neu language, the language in which his Torah was written, and which was revived in the twentieth century as a spoken language.

Is that not awesome?  Is that not enough of a spiritual experience to touch one’s neshama?  Is that not enough that it says to that Jew, ‘evidence of your history in your historical homeland  is before your eyes being unearthed and is unfolding, bit by bit, and proving that history true.  Jew: Is it not time to return?–to return to your Jewish roots?’

If that is not enough of an experience for one’s neshama to do teshuva, I don’t know what is.

Orah Friedland Zipper, a former Hebrew/Judaic Studies educator currently living in Colorado has also worked in various incarnations as translator/transliterator, administrative assistant, test evaluator and team trainer, as well as website writer/editor.  She currently teaches Hebrew privately to adults, writes and is an avid blogger.  Her blog, Tikkun Olam, can be found at http://www.lady-light.blogspot.com, where this article was first published.  In addition, she is also the proud mother of five grown children, bracketed by her eldest daughter, a successful new product inventor and entrepreneur, and her youngest daughter, recently discharged from active duty in the IDF as a Commander in the Combat Engineering Corps.

Three of her children live in Israel , and she has six grandchildren.  She sings soprano, too!

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On Teshuvah

by Louis E. Newman (Northfield, MN)

All of us at one time or another have had the experience of losing our way. Sometimes, perhaps when we’re traveling in a foreign place, we become completely disoriented. At first we think we know which way to head, but when we set out in that direction we discover that our own sense of direction has failed us. When we realize that we don’t have the foggiest idea where we are or how to get to our destination, we are thoroughly lost. Such moments can arouse profound feelings of helplessness and even despair.

Being morally lost likewise involves a sense of despair. We have fallen into the same patterns of hurtful or self-destructive behavior so often we feel that we’re beyond the point of being able to change. We don’t know which direction to turn in order to find our way back to a life of honor and integrity. And before long we may come to believe that, for us at least, there is no way back. I have known many addicts who have lived for years with such feelings of helplessness.

Ultimately, though, the point of all these metaphors of movement is that the same steps that led us into the ditch of transgression can lead us back to the high road of ethical living. Teshuvah—returning—is the name Judaism gives to this process of retrieving our sense of direction. Repentance is the ultimate form of return. After turning our gaze away from God and straying from the straight path, we can still find our way back. And it is as simple as taking just one step in a new direction. For turning in a new direction, by as little as one degree, will lead us over time to a wholly different destination.

Louis Newman has been thinking, teaching, and writing about Jewish ideas for over 30 years.  One of the country’s leading scholars of Jewish ethics, he is the John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies and the Humphrey Doermann Professor of Liberal Learning at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. His most recent book is Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah (Jewish Lights 2010).

This excerpt is from Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah @ 2010 by Louis Newman (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing). Permission granted by Jewish Lights Publishing, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091. www.jewishlights.com.

To read more about Dr. Newman and his work, visit http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-426-9

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