Breathe in and Be Reborn

This Dvar Torah was adapted from one written by Rabbi Sam Feinsmithco-founder of Orot Center for Jewish Learning in Chicago.

Yom Kippur by Karin Foreman

The contours and texture of Jewish sacred time foster new ways of being so that we might have greater access to them during the mundane course of daily living… The arc of hallowed moments that carries us from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur and on to Sukkot is no different. 
 
It is a deep meditation on birth, death, and finding a true refuge in the face of uncertainty, providing us with a lens for relating to the daily reality of impermanence with greater wisdom and compassion.  

The High Holidays are...a bridge, a compressed journey… the voyage from birth to death in ten days’ time. Rosh Hashanah is all about birth, and Yom Kippur is about death. Rosh Hashanah is...the Day the World Is Born, and Yom Kippur is the day we rehearse for our own death by wearing a shroud and by abstaining from life-affirming activities, like eating and sexuality.”
 
~ Alan Lew, This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared

Yet birth and death are not one-time events. The Chassidic tradition calls our attention to the fact that they are happening in every moment:  

“And Moshe and the Priests and Levites spoke...today (i.e. the day the Torah was inscribed) you have become a nation” (Deuteronomy 27:9). Rashi interpreted: Every day [words of Torah] should be like new to you. But how? By believing that with each and every breath you are receiving new chayut (vital life force)If so, you are a new creation.
 
~ Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, Kedushas Levi, Ki Tavo

Reb Levi Yitzchak reminds us that with each in-breath we are involuntarily reborn, breathed into a new moment of life; as the in-breath gives way to the out-breath, we are reminded to let go, make space, surrender into a miniature death.
 
The cycle repeats. We are reborn again. We die again. We are reborn again. This is the way things are. How wondrous! And how destabilizing!
 
In an effort to get some solid ground under our feet, we clutch at anything that holds even the flimsiest promise of stability, losing ourselves in sense pleasures, the to-do list, consumerism, and entertainment so we won’t have to attend to what we know to be true, that our sense of self is a conditioned mental construct superimposed upon the ever-unfolding and totally unpredictable flux of energy, life-force, breath, and being…
In so doing, we keep ourselves and others from riding the waves of birth, death, and rebirth into the ever-unfolding now and the limitless possibility, vitality, and freedom it holds.
 
And the saddest truth is that none of our coping mechanisms actually work. Instead they drain our energy, and keep us clutching at an isolated and narrow sense of self that is anxious, fearful, reactive, and cut off from its innate freedom and ease…
 
But this season calls us back to another way of being--the path of teshuvah.
 
This season offers us a condensed opportunity to attend to how we walk the uncertain, ever-unfolding journey from birth to death to rebirth, reminding us that embittered resistance and denial will only add hurt and limit possibility. Instead, we might use this season to train in balanced acceptance by turning and returning to a deep practice of attunement and at-one-ment with an inner Voice that calls us home to our true refuge, our inner sukkah.
 
Rather than focusing our energies on self-preservation, we are invited to train in letting go and relaxing into the possibility of self-transcendence, allowing ourselves to return to Sinai every day and as Rabbi Alan Lew writes in This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: “sit flush with the world, [with the understanding that] any moment of our life fully inhabited, any feeling fully felt, any immersion in the full depth of life, can be the source of deep joy.”
 
May we use this season as an opportunity to train deeply in relaxing into the freshness of the present moment. As we do so, may we discover a loving Presence, an inner refuge that shatters all concepts and self-limiting beliefs, and opens our hearts to compassion, joy… and a sincere desire to serve and walk a wholesome path of non-harming and world-repair.

Shabbat Shalom