Rosh Hashanah 5780
And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of art."
Abraham Joshua Heschel
When I was eleven, I attended a week-long intensive art camp. We were using charcoal for still life renditions of a raw tree branch onto wide stretches of paper. I was very happy with how mine evolved and I asked my teacher where I should sign it, thinking that it would make the work even more legitimate. I imagined that was what a true artist would do.
I was struck by his response.
“You don’t need to sign it” he advised “Your signature is already in every mark you made on the page”.
Over twenty five years later that sentiment stays with me. Life is our canvas, and our essence is evident in the way we move through the blank page of time. How we conduct ourselves in the “small” moments - how we greet strangers, how we give, how we react - all are a telling portrait of where we are at. I once heard a mother recall her breakthrough moment when she realized that making a grilled cheese sandwich for her children was an expression of her love, and so much more than a mundane task.
Rosh Hashanah in part comes to remind us that the way we live is a mark we are etching into existence. When we arrive at the first day of the month of Tishrei we are asked - What did you paint this year? How do you feel about it? Was it a reflection of your truth?
What is this “truth”? What is this purity or essence that we are striving for which may or may not be reflected in the illustration of our year past?
My art teacher’s advice all those years ago was in actuality, a deep spiritual teaching. Judaism believes that Hashem’s signature is also within every mark He made on His “page”. Therefore we each have G-d’s own “signature” within us.
As I’ve learnt through one of my Torah teachers, Diane Bloomfield, the Jewish scholar Sfat Emet referred to this as a Nekudah Pnimiut, or Nekudah Hakadosh, a holy or innermost point literally engraved into each one of us, which is connected to Hashem and His wellspring of all life energy.
Over the course of the year, the material of life naturally results in a veiling of those bright lights. Like muscles that are lacking in oxygen feel stiff and painful, every time we misalign we are disconnecting from those sacred “points”. When we gossip, when we are untruthful, when we speak poorly to ourselves, when we turn away from the suffering of another and the myriad of personal ways in which we transgress - each of these result in a muffling of the soul.
On the contrary when we love, when we bond with one another, when we do mitzvot, when we create with sincerity and when we live with joy and gratitude, we are nurturing our “Holy points” so that they are not obscured.
In Rosh Hashanah we have been gifted a portal which channels deeply into the heart of existence.
The dusty layers are peeled away. Hashem remembers us and we in turn recall this vital life force, this holy point, which is His “signature” within us. He reminds us of our place within His master plan. Our souls are beaming, renewed, recharged, reignited. Throbbing to the pulse of the Shofar, they burst through our chests with clarity, passion and purpose. They are not imprisoned within our bodies, but they have the power once again to lead us, should we allow them.
The note they sing rings loud, and for some time we clearly hear their truth. It’s a truth we need to recall and bottle for use throughout the entirety of the coming year.
So as we sit in reflection and we consider our year ahead, know that this day and the following ten culminating in Yom Kippur, are far greater than merely intention-setting for self improvement. This is a period of powerful connection in which we can have a deep, sincere, soul-level memory of why we are here.
When we channel this current into our space and time in a way which is unique to us, the way we live will surely create a meaningful, magnificent and honest signature in the year to come.
May we all be given this opportunity, and be blessed to be written and sealed in the Book of Life,