On the High Holy Days, we are encouraged to look back. We ponder the year that has passed, what has transpired, and how we might change it in the future. But what if we are stuck? What if we can’t get past a specific event? How many of us have experienced a terrible ordeal?
Some of us may have felt that we were tested beyond our limits. Some of us may have been let down or hurt by someone who was supposed to protect us. Some us may have lost home or property in Hurricane Sandy or a similar storm. Some of us have experienced the loss of a loved one and will never be the same. Some of us have battled illness or injuries and are in chronic pain. When these challenges befall us, it can feel like healing is impossible.
I think, first, one of the hardest steps in the healing process is just admitting that we hurt. So often, we want to put on a happy face, or be “strong,” or pretend that everything is fine. As much as we might want to run from our suffering, it has a crazy way of catching up with us. We may have no idea how to solve our problem, or how to reduce our suffering, or even how to begin the healing process, but there is something powerful in just allowing ourselves to first acknowledge that we are in pain.
Rabbi Naomi Levy, who has written profoundly beautiful modern prayers, wrote a prayer of healing that I find quite moving. Rabbi Levy wrote:
I am hurting, God. I feel lost, helpless, alone. My tragedy seems so senseless. Help me, God, to embrace what I cannot understand, to find meaning in my suffering. Remind me that though I am powerless to choose my fate, I hold the power to choose a response to my fate. May I never be defeated. May I never grow bitter. May my sorrow lead me to strength, to wisdom, to compassion and to You. Amen.
We need to allow ourselves to feel the brokenness within us before we can begin to heal. Estelle Frankel, a Jewish educator and therapist, describes in her book “Sacred Therapy” an exercise in which she gathers a group of people in a circle, then breaks an earthen vessel in the center of the circle. Each participant then took a piece of the shattered vessel, and focused on an aspect of his/her life that felt broken or in pain. Then they were each instructed to hold it with compassion and forgiveness, knowing that brokenness is just a part of life, something everyone in that circle shared, and part of the very fabric of existence. They learned that they were not alone in feeling broken, hurt, or damaged.
The High Holy Days have the potential to signal a return to a sense of wholeness for all of us. When we are hurt, physically or emotionally, we feel stranded in a strange land, and we often don’t feel like we are centered in ourselves. Teshuvah, which we usually translate as “repentance,” can also be translated as “returning.” We use this time each year to return to ourselves and to our souls.
May the process of teshuvah, of returning, lead us all to come away with a new understanding of our own higher purpose, that of others, or even the world as a whole.
Rabbi Marci Bellows is a spiritual leader at Temple B’nai Torah community in Wantagh, Long Island. A native of Skokie, IL., she earned a B.A. in Psychology from Brandeis University and a Masters in Hebrew Literature in 2003 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She was ordained in 2004.