“L’Shana Tova!,” my relatives and friends are saying as they greet each other tonight. “Happy New Year! And,” some add, “may you be inscribed.” The whole expression is, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,” but I suppose we’re just too busy around the Jewish High Holy Days getting the gefilte fish ready to have time to finish our sentences.
The Book of Life is a bit of a fuzzy concept for me… I’ve forgotten the orthodoxy about it that I was taught as a child (we were Reform Jews, not that kind of orthodoxy, but still…). What remains with me is the sense that during these “Days of Awe,” we are given an opportunity to reflect on how we are coming along on the road to our holiest purpose.
Of course we have this same opportunity every single day of the year – it’s just that most of us, and I include myself, haven’t created (or stuck to) a daily practice to remind us to check on our purpose.
The High Holy Days are, in my mind, a really good excuse to stop what I’m doing and check in with my spirit and my purpose. I was taught that the closer we are to our purpose, the closer we are to God (however you interpret that concept). By living a life with purpose, we stay on the right side of the ledger – which I learned in Basic Accounting is the credit side. The plus side. The good side. And even though there’s no concept of hell in Judaism, you still want to be on the right side of things – you know, just in case.
The Book of Life is, from what I can tell, the representation of being on the right side of life.
So here we are, Erev Rosh Hashana, the eve of the first day of the Jewish calendar. As of sundown tonight, the year is 5774, which according to our faith is the number of years that have passed since, well, that week that God created the world. (What a week that was!)
If I were in Los Angeles right now, there’s a good chance I would be at services with my mother, but if that were the case, then I wouldn’t be writing this, would I? And this, my friend, is where I’m at. Not at shul.
Truthfully, I’d contemplated dropping in tonight on the congregation I only join once a year (that being now), knowing I’d probably run into a familiar face or two, but I just didn’t have it in me to go out, and decided instead to stay put and reflect on my holiest purpose.
Okay… so just what IS my holy purpose? This much I know – it has something to do with moving forward through my life, along the path that brings me most into alignment with, and into connection with, the One that connects every thing.
I’ve spent a significant chunk of my adult life telling myself that I’m “seeking” my purpose, scanning the horizon for a vision of my path. I’ve got the feeling, though, that seeking is rather fruitless unless — or until — one stops seeking and spends more time being. When I slow down long enough to listen in and hear what’s going on with my spirit, I actually remember a few things that are important in terms of purpose.
For one, I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of being a human up to this point. So right there, maybe that’s just part of my purpose. To be me.
For another, there’s SO much more I want to experience in this life. And I have a pretty good hunch that by opening myself to new experiences, to new worlds and new ways, I’ll find that my purpose reveals itself to me – without me having to squint looking around for it.
Here’s an odd thing. While jumping on the interweb for a brief fact check for this piece, I happened to stumble across the tail end of a livestream of the Ma’ariv (evening) service at the temple where I had my Bat Mitzvah, a congregation in which my mother remains an active member.
I tuned in just as the lovely rabbi/cantor with her youthful and infectious energy delivered the end of her sermon about being “of service.” I look forward to listening to the whole sermon once it’s uploaded, as I think hers is a message I need to hear, but I only heard this one story she told.
Two people run into each other in a forest. One says, “I am lost. I’ve been searching for the path and can’t find it. Can you show me the way out?” The other replies, “I too am lost. But I can tell you this much – don’t go the way I’ve been, because it doesn’t go anywhere. Let’s look for the path together.”
The rabbi reminded us that it is easy enough to carry on as we always do, but that we are actually obligated to find the road to our holiest purpose. In helping others, the rabbi said, we are offered the path to fulfillment and joy, the path to good.
Perfect. That’s all I needed to hear tonight. I will go to a Rosh Hashana service tomorrow – it’s important to me to have at least a little bit of face time with the Jewish community, to remind myself that I am, in body as well as in spirit, very much still a part of it.
In helping others, we are offered the path to fulfillment and joy, the path to good.
May this be a happy and healthy year for us all, and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Kein Yehi Ratzon. May it be God’s will.