A Wake-Up Invitation to Our Hearts
Sep 30th 2022

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I spoke about Teshuvah, Belovedness, and Pleasure. The night before, after ẖag dinner, my dear colleague Yacov gave me the slightest nudge about the language I use, reminding me to ensure that it should be clear to the people in the room what I mean. For instance, in my Jewish mindfulness circles, words like “belovedness” and “embodiment” are ubiquitous, meaning that it is easy for me to forget not to take shared meaning for granted. So I went home and sat with the word ‘belovedness’. To be loved. That’s it. To be loved. And we are.

We have clear cues about this loving throughout our liturgy, not the least obvious being the first of the two blessings before the Shema, Ahava Raba Ahavtanu, “with a great love you have loved us.” And we also have cues for this throughout the Song of Songs.

How do these reminders of our belovedness help us out at the moment in which we find ourselves, halfway through Aseret Yimei Teshuvah, the ten days of Returning that span the time of and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? It may help to begin with a reminder about teshuvah: we bring our attention to and reflect on our lives over the past year, the ways we were—or were not—able to show up. We bring these reflections into action through apology and forgiveness. To whom are we apologizing and to whom are we offering forgiveness? For each of us, the answers are different. We may take the time to call a friend and let them know that we are sorry for the ways we have been hurtful. We may visit a family member and address a specific moment or event that was difficult, letting them know that we care about any ways we may have caused discomfort or even suffering and that we want to do better in the coming year.

This is sticky stuff, difficult conversations, awkward at best, and we haven’t even mentioned forgiving ourselves. How can we accompany this time with some sweetness to make sure that the process of teshuvah doesn’t have such sharp edges that it is ineffective? This is where being reminded of our belovedness comes in. For instance, there is a set of confessions we begin to make at Seliẖot and continue to make throughout Yom Kippur. Traditionally, we beat our chests, singing, “Ay Yay Yay Yay Yay” and recounting the ways we have done wrong, both as individuals and together as a larger community. I heard a beautiful teaching that proposes that we think of the banging on the chests more like a knock: “Kol dodi dofek pitchi li […]” /The voice of my Beloved is knocking, open to me […]”(Song of Songs 5:2). What if the banging were more of a gentle knock, almost like a subtler set of shofar calls, a wake-up invitation to our hearts to open, a knocking from the Beloved within?

Our loved ones, communities, and the greater world all need us to do the work of teshuvah, to examine the ways we can be less reactive, more present, and more effective in our caring and loving for those around us and beyond. We can approach this process by remembering we are beloved, being loved in each and every moment, by a vast and infinite source of loving. When we engage in teshuvah in this way, softened by this knowing, perhaps our own teshuvah can truly have a long-lasting impact and be part of the transformation and healing that is needed.

G’mar Hatimah Tovah,