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Yom Kippur: Are You Choosing Life?

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The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about choice -- opting to leave negativity behind and pressing toward a positive future. What are you choosing today?

woman in the beach

Dr. Michelle Golland: During her sermon, my rabbi said, "We don't choose when we come into this world or when we go out, but during the in-between we choose." We choose to live or to die each year. What I mean is we choose to live an alive life or a dead life -- a life filled with joy, connection, and often pain and sadness, or a life deadened by trying to avoid what we feel and think and don't want to face in our lives. The truths we are embarrassed to look at and the shame we try to cover up.

For Jews, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days to be filled with contemplation of your past and hopes for the future. On Yom Kippur, we fast for 24 hours and are to abandon all things of this world, including eating and drinking. We are to experience our own death in a way. We are to reflect on our life, our relationships, our work, our pleasure, and our pains over the past year and ask ourselves, "Where are we?" If we were to not wake up tomorrow (the day after Yom Kippur), who would we have been during this life?

It is the time for Teshuvah, which means "to return" in Hebrew. This is a time to make amends for mistakes one has made. For Jews, only God can forgive sins against God, not against other people. You must ask for forgiveness from the person you have transgressed against -- it is not good enough to simply apologize in one's mind and heart.

One must be humbled before the person to experience true teshuva. The hope in teshuva is to heal the relationship and create an even deeper connection, if possible. It is said that if someone apologizes three times and is refused each time, then the transgression transfers to the other person, because the apologizer has done all they could to heal their mistake. Granting forgiveness is equally as healing.

The experience of teshuva will help you choose life because it wakes you up, it keeps you from denial and deadening your own senses with the false belief that you can do no wrong, and others are at fault for your pain and misfortune. It holds you accountable to your own life. You must look at yourself honestly and unmasked to see your flaws and cast them away.

It is also a time to cast away parts of yourself that you wish to change or be done with in your life. For some, this is stopping drinking, stopping cheating, letting go of the anger at a family member; for others, it is casting away fear and self-doubt about career or unrequited love.

During Tashlich (the casting-away ritual), our synagogue goes to the beach and casts away our sins and struggles into the ocean. As my pieces of bread kept flowing back to me, I found myself wanting to pick them up and toss them so far away as to never see them again, but then I realized that the things we really deeply want to be gone from within us are usually the things we struggle with back and forth in ourselves for our whole life. Our personal struggles and pain are just like the ocean's water, ebbing and flowing, sometimes gently -- and sometimes crashing with such force that we are knocked to the ground.

So each year, I will ask myself the hard and humbling questions, praying to get closer to being alive, crying and laughing, crying and laughing but so very alive.

So I ask you: Where are you? And are you choosing life?




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