May You Be Inscribed…
What do we mean by, “l’shanah tovah tikatevu – may you be inscribed for a good year?” Most of us simply mean, “I hope it all goes well.” In other words, “may you have a year of health and blessings and prosperity – and maybe a bit less mishigas in our community, country, world.” A simple and very well-intentioned High Holiday greeting. That’s what most of us mean.
Some of us, though, mean this post-Rosh Hashanah, pre-Yom Kippur greeting quite literally, as in, “when G-d writes you down in the Book of Life and Death on Rosh Hashanah may your name be on the good side of the ledger. Then – if it isn’t, if your inscription ends up on the “not-Life” side – may you use the ten days of teshuvah, the aseret yamaei teshuvah, to change G-d’s mind before the sun sets on Yom Kippur day. The rabbis tell us we can influence the Divine judgement through prayer, righteous deeds, and teshuvah.
Praying and doing deeds of righteousness, that’s self-explanatory, but teshuva is more complex, and despite what we may have been taught teshuvah isn’t about being sorry. Rather, teshuva requires a total system reboot that ends up in our returning to the pure goodness that once was once ours and has remained in our core being ever since. Teshuvah instructs us to return to that deep place where ego, insecurity and fear don’t rule our behavior, that place where we feel aligned, on track, connected, spiritually powerful. From that place, we can act from our highest selves, and “I’m sorry for what I did,” becomes “I have changed; I will no longer behave that way next time; I apologize; here’s how I will be different.”
For our Hillel students, hundreds of whom were with us at our Rosh Hashanah programs again this year, neither the simple “I hope it goes well” nor the literal “I hope you get to live another year” are quite right. Hillel embodies a metaphorical middle ground. Rabbi Eliezer, the Talmud relates, taught his disciples 19 centuries ago a lesson for the ages: do teshuvah one day before you die. In other words, do it today, tomorrow, and the day after – not just during this time of year. For Hillel, the metaphorical “may you be inscribed,” means assuring that our Hillel homes-away-from-home provide a true safe haven every day for Jewish students’ ongoing teshuvah, that we create joyful Jewish spaces that belong to the students and their like-minded peers, spaces staffed by charismatic, caring mentors who model teshuvah and guide students to cry and laugh, grow, learn, celebrate, and return over and over to their best selves.
At Hillel, these ten days aren’t about getting it right, but rather about being and doing better than yesterday, better than last time. Our community Hillel leaders and advocates make this possible: thank you. Please take a moment this Holiday Season to feel pride in the Hillel community you have helped create, to renew your commitment to this next generation of Jewish leaders. May they and you be inscribed and sealed for a year with more blessings than any of us can count. May we all be inspired through our teshuvah to model for others the best we can imagine for our families, or communities, our world.
L’shanah tovah tikatevu.
Above photo: CSU Hillel Students participating in Reverse Tashlich