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  • Rabbi Mordecai Finley

Holy Words


I gave a bit of a facetious title to one of the themes of my several talks on Yom Kippur, “Stop hoping, stop praying, stop thinking.” I have been digging into each of these themes a bit more during the past week or so since the end of the Days of Awe, and I would like to share some of that thinking with you.

Sukkot is the time where we focus on happiness, authentic happiness. “Osher” in Hebrew, “eudomania” in Greek. The terms suggest spiritual wellbeing and contentedness, not the emotion of happiness when a need has been met (this emotion is not bad; it is, however fleeting). If the Days of Awe are a time when we focus on values and insight, and the wisdom that flows from that work, then Sukkot for me has something to do with the osher/eudaimonia/spiritual wellbeing we feel when we contemplate a life of wisdom and virtue.

The “stop hoping” admonition has to do with this: find the unconscious part of us in the ego self that is fixated on the self, or someone else changing. We might change, and they might change, but “hoping for change”, at our core, is futile and maybe even destructive. People ask, “don’t you hope?” Yes, I do, but in some secondary or tertiary way. Of course I hope that I and others change, that my life will change. At the core of my being, however, I need to face the truth of the matter. Sometimes that truth is painful, sometimes it evokes one or some of the eight major disruptions and distractions that I teach about: anger, resentment, grief and loss, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, or envy.

I don’t mean for us to become hopeless; I mean for us to become resilient in the face of truth. With a distant eye of hope toward change, we keep our focus on the truth of the matter, and we engage in the most deliberate and incremental steps toward transformation. Each step taken brings a kind of spiritual liberation, even joy.

How do I keep the will for transformation going without hope regarding the future? One of my practices is not to focus on what I want, but who I am – or more precisely, the qualities deep within me that must be evoked.

Here is an example. Think of generosity. Think deeply. How to define the term. Look it up, study different ideas about. Make the term “generosity”, for example, a well formed and detailed ideal. Hold it in minds eye.

Here is what I experience: this linguistic ideal starts to sink into my soul. I feel the spirit of generosity seep into my being, spread throughout my body. I can imagine myself with a lighter touch, gentle, more attentive to the needs of others, with the delight of doing what I can to make their lives better, with no regard, truly, for reciprocity. The pure joy of bringing a bit of light to the soul of another. I feel gratitude. Love of life and others.

When I meditate deeply on holy words – love, compassion, truth, creativity, honor, wisdom, for example, I can feel the beauty of these words, and something of the divine essence ensconced within each of them. That hidden face of the divine is released – I experience the beauty of my own soul, the love and grace of the divine, the beauty of the souls of others with whom I am traveling, the holy path home.

The deep well being that comes from this meditation is not about hoping into the future, but rather about animating spiritual energy that lies deep within. And sometime releasing that energy is what guides and propels us, ever so gently, into the self beyond the horizon.

#YomKippur #hope #sukkot #change

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