Becoming Lovers of Life

Rosh Hashanah Day 1, 5783/ September 26, 2022

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a crafter. As soon as I could hold a crayon, I started drawing and creating. There was always a craft project in the works in my home growing up. The joy of making something with my hands was one that came intuitively. My memories of childhood summers are marked by new skills and projects – trips to the craft store, painting and glazing ceramics with my grandmother, weaving lanyards, mastering complex friendship bracelet designs, embroidery and cross-stitch, sewing, and knitting. 

As I entered adolescence and the demands of school increased, my artistic and crafty creations became more sporadic.n There wasn’t time or energy amidst the hours of school, homework, sports, and other activities that characterize typical suburban high school life. In college and beyond I would pick up knitting again, or feel inspired to make something, and I would remember, if just for a moment, the pleasures of creating with one’s hands. 

Recently, I have rediscovered my love of creating again, and this time it feels like the recovery of something essential about the way I exist in the world. I feel the difference when I take the time to hold something in my hands, to feel the rhythm of stitches, the texture of fabric, the smooth movement of a paintbrush, or clay spinning on a wheel. I have discovered creativity as a renewable resource. Making one thing generates the sparks for a new idea. 

 As I revisit those early memories and realize just how integral creativity always was, I wonder: how could it be that I could have lived without this for so long? It was like living without a part of my soul, without air. I might wonder about what else could have been, what joy I might have missed out on over the years, but I am so grateful for the chance to return to this part of myself now. It feels like coming home.

The seeds may have been lying dormant for awhile, but they were always there for me to find. Things forgotten need not be lost. As the cycle of life revolves, we may yet revisit them. 

Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the New Year, another turn of the wheel of time. It is said on this day – Hayom harat olam – today the world is born. Rosh Hashanah reminds us that we are part of a cosmic dance. While we are accustomed to thinking of our lifespans, and of human history in linear time, our world and the universe around us, works in cycles or spirals. 

On Rosh Hashanah, we are poised right around the fall equinox, the inflection point in the cycle of the seasons. It is a time of transition. We celebrate the new year precisely at the moment when the world around us is in a state of change – we are neither at the peak of summer or the trough of winter, but in the place in between, where the shifts from day to day become more discernible. At the end of the summer, the days shorten, we feel a chill in the air, and plants and animal life turn inward, gathering for the winter months to come. Out of the darkness and cold of winter, we move back toward light and spring begins. And we repeat the cycle over again, every year. 

We have been through the cycle of the year before. We have an idea of what is to come, how to prepare, and the knowledge that as we say goodbye to one point of our spiral, it will return to us again. 

Rosh Hashanah isa time for honoring the world itself, its ever-cycling seasons, and the renewal of God’s creation. And it is also a time to notice – where are we in our own cycles? What is the same for us as it was at this time last year, or in years past? Where have we been and to what do we need to return?

Before it became Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year, this day has an even older name. In the Torah, this day is known as Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance. It is a day for holy convocation or gathering and for blasts of the shofar. The Torah leaves unsaid – Who or what is it that needs to be remembered? And who is doing the remembering – us, or God? 

Our mahzor’s answer to this question is that it is God who remembers us on this day. We ask God to remember our spiritual ancestors and their merits, to remember God’s covenant with the Jewish people, to remember and inscribe us in the book of life. As we sing together throughout these holy days: Zochreinu l’chayim, melech chafetz bachayim, v’kotveinu b’sefer ha-chayim l’ma’ancha Elohim Chayim. Remember us for life, ruler who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for your own sake, God of Life. 

Our tradition also affirms that this day is also about our own remembering, captured in the idea of teshuva. The idea of teshuva, a word which means turning or return, is rooted in remembering. In order to engage in teshuva, in order to return, we must remember: what is it that I need to return to? 

This understanding of teshuva as return differs somewhat from common associations we might have with the High Holy Days. Teshuva is often translated into English as repentance, a word with strong associations with guilt and alleviating wrongdoing. The emphasis can fall heavily on what we need to fix or do away with. Sins are concretized as things we can rid ourselves of, as we do symbolically at tashlich – by casting away our shortcomings as easily as tossing breadcrumbs into the water. On Yom Kippur in particular, we focus as a community on naming the ways that we have fallen short. We engage in an introspective process of focusing on what we need to let go of. We think about how we are going to reshape ourselves according to an external ideal – how this year we are going to be different, do differently, be better. 

This kind of internal work is certainly important and has its place. Sometimes there are patterns or behaviors we need to give up to make space for something new. Sometimes we do need to acknowledge the ways that we have hurt others, and begin the process of repair. Having goals and ideals to aspire to can motivate us to make needed changes in our lives. All of these can be important aspects of teshuva. 

AND – at the core of teshuva is the one that is deeply connected to the concept of return. This season is not only about letting go of things and striving towards ideals – it is at its essence about remembering and returning to ourselves, to cycling back to a place of wholeness. What do we need to remember about ourselves at this time? What do we need to come home to? What within our hearts and souls do we need to embrace again? 

As our Mahzor teaches us, God is chafetz bachayim –  one who loves and delights in life. Life is what God desires for us. So in this time of returning, how can we follow in the Divine footsteps and also become chaf’tzei chayim – those who love and delight in life? 

Just as we ask God to remember us for life, how can we remember ourselves for life? 

You might be thinking: maybe this seems overly simplistic and easy. Who doesn’t love and desire life? Doesn’t that make us lovers of life already?

Yes, and…there are a lot of people in the world walking around who are outwardly living but inwardly are cut off from the source of life. We can live by going through the motions, and from the outside appear to have everything we need to thrive, and still feel that there is something missing. We live in a society that privileges certain ways of being and aspects of human experience over others – primarily the mind over the body, the intellect over the emotions, intuition, and senses. To get along in the world, we learn to prioritize our minds over our bodies and lose touch with these other aspects of who we are. 

But life, and our experience today, is more than what goes on up here, in our heads. We are also here (heart space) – living, breathing in bodies that may or may not be cooperating with what we want them to do today. As human beings, we are not only intellectual, we are also physical and sensory. And we are each unique – we each have a different mind-body-heart landscape (as my meditation teacher calls it) with different sensitivities and awarenesses, different gifts and joys, different ways of taking in the world around us and expressing ourselves in it. As the developmental psychologist Todd Rose says – when it comes to people, there is no such thing as average. 

Those differences are good, and deserving of our respect – not only in recognizing the uniqueness of our fellow human beings being created b’tzelem elohim – in the divine image – but in recognizing how our own differences make us a reflection of the sacred, too. 

We best reflect the divine image, the image of a God who we call a lover of life, or of all that is living, by reconnecting with our aliveness. By listening not only to what our minds are telling us, but our hearts, souls, and all of our senses. By fully embracing all that makes us human and all that makes us unique individuals. 

So what might it mean to love and desire life in the way that our tradition imagines God as a lover of life? 

It means being open to the fullness of life and our experiences, and being fully present in it.

The prayer services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can get very cerebral. Prayer is the central activity of these holidays. Our liturgy has grown and expanded over time, collecting the writings and poetic yearnings of Jews throughout the generations. There is much beauty and wisdom to find here. 

And: when confronted with several hundred pages of prayers in Hebrew and English to make sense of, to try to connect with, knowing that it is supposed to be really important, that we need to pay attention to when the ark is opening and closing, and when am I supposed to be sitting and standing, and wondering how much time is left, and when will the rabbi’s sermon end – it can quickly spiral into a primarily intellectual exercise. 

Whew. Let’s take a breath. 

So my invitation for all of us, today at this moment, and in the year ahead, is to welcome the fullness of our experience. 

Let’s think of the time we’re spending together as a kind of spiritual laboratory – a space to experiment and explore, to incubate and nurture our minds, bodies, and souls, before we have to go out into the world. Today should not be about suppressing or ignoring what we feel, because we need to check a box and get through the services, and pay attention and all that. (Now, I hope people won’t all get up and walk out the door at once!).

Allow yourself to experience your time here in the ways that move you – literally and metaphorically. That could mean, closing your eyes or putting down your prayer book for a time and just taking in the melodies and songs, or feeling the vibrations of sound in your body. It could mean moving your body in a way that you want to move. I think shuckling – or the swaying that people often engage in while praying – is ingenious. Allowing our bodies to sway, rock and move instead of trying to stand totally still can help us feel spiritually connected too.  Your spiritual lab  experiment could also mean – checking in and paying attention to when you need to take a break – for a drink of water or a quick walk outside to get some fresh air and sunlight. You can do this, and come back. 

Because this day is ultimately about you, your experience, and returning to the truest version of ourselves.  And so what better time and space to practice doing that then right here, right now, as we celebrate the new year and attune ourselves to life within and around us. 


An ancient Jewish mystical book, Sefer Yetzirah, The Book of Creation, describes the architecture of the cosmos as the basis for a meditative practice. In the first chapter, Sefer Yetzirah offers these words of wisdom to the spiritual seeker:

“Stop your mouth from speaking, stop your heart from murmuring, and if your heart runs, return to the Place.

(Translation by Rabbi Jill Hammer, “Return to the Place: The Magic, Meditation, and Mystery of Sefer Yetzirah,” 1:5)

If you have ever tried meditation or mindfulness practices, the image of a constantly active mind – speaking, murmuring, and running might be familiar to you. When our thoughts want to drive everything, this is a gentle reminder to return to the core – HaMakom – “the place”. What is the place? HaMakom is one of the ways our tradition refers to God. It also points to an element of what we might mean when we talk about God or the divine presence – and that is: where is the place that God dwells? Within our hearts. When we speak of returning to the Place, we are returning to the core of our being, the spark of the divine presence that is in each of us, the source of life. 

Return to the Place. Return to yourself. You are home. 

Zochreinu l’chaim-  Let us remember ourselves for life, we who are lovers of life, and may we be inscribed in the book of life. 

Shanah Tovah.