Marianne Novak

To Transform, Not to Transcend

The days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur according to our tradition are days of repentance. So although Rosh HaShanah is the day of judgment, we have an ‘eleventh hour’ reprieve to try to set our lives out on the right path by asking for forgiveness from others, ourselves and ultimately Gd.

It is also a tradition to visit deceased loved ones at this time. It seems actually a little odd because practically you cannot ask forgiveness from those who are no longer with you. Yet , every year, I come to my daughter’s grave to beg for forgiveness from her, Batsheva z’l who died by suicide 2 1/2 years ago.

Initially I’d come to ask for forgiveness for not being a good enough parent to her. But now I ask forgiveness for not remembering her enough. I am frightened that my memories will dim and her life will be forgotten. It’s a double-edged sword because I don’t want to forget but remembering is still so very painful.

Perhaps we go to visit at this time of year to help put everything into sharp perspective and be able to open ourselves up to Gd and recognize that while in the end it is in Gd’s hands, I cannot throw up my hands and absolve myself of responsibility. My hope is that we all take even a few minutes to engage in that conversation and resist falling into the trap of when focusing on one-self goes from something helpful — which it should be — to something selfish. Yom Kippur should be an exercise in humility where we understand what we can (the good) and cannot do. Beating ourselves up won’t help in that endeavor.

When we really see ourselves— the bad and the good— then we can transform so make things better for us and our loved ones here on earth. That’s what I believe Gd wants from us. To transform and to resist the expectation to transcend.

While we are like angels on Yom Kippur, at the end of the day, we go back home and take off our wings. The challenge then is to bring the Gd-like essence that we all have the opportunity to tap into on YK back into our everyday lives, to use that little piece of heaven to transform but to remain human.

Wishing you all a G’mar Tov.

About the Author
Rabbi Marianne Novak recently received Semikha from Yeshivat Maharat. She lives in Skokie, IL with her husband Noam Stadlan. She is an educator for the Melton Adult Education Program and a Gabbait for the Skokie Women's Tefillah Group. She recently joined the Judaic studies faculty at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School in Chicago, IL.
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