We now find ourselves in a unique time of the year: A ten-day period — which begins with Rosh Hashana and concludes with Yom Kippur — called The Ten Days of Teshuva. Time is energy. And the energy of this time period is one of return (the literal meaning of the word teshuva).
Return to what? To your core and essential self — to the real you, the “you” that lays beneath the masks, the armor and the elaborate defense mechanisms that define our daily encounters. In these Ten Days of Teshuva/Return the doors of return are open for us, beckoning and allowing us to tap into our innermost selves — the purest place within us; the true you as you were before you lost your innocence.
In this article Rabbi Simon Jacobson guides us on this journey… a journey into the inner recesses of your… self.
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. –Michelangelo
A few days ago my good friend sent me a picture of himself as a young boy. Pure. Innocent. Beautiful. Vulnerable.
This friend had grown up in a fractured home. Estranged from abusive parents he was excited to discover a picture from his childhood.
But my friend’s anguished words brought tears to my eyes. “What happened to that little boy?” he asked with resignation dripping from his words.
“I look at myself today and don’t recognize that child. Not the wonder in his eyes, not the simple smile on his lips. Not his clear complexion. That small, innocent child is lost forever…”.
I hung up the phone and wept. Not for the lost child, but for something far deeper: For my friend’s self-induced certainty that his purity is lost, when in truth it is right there inside of him, and I, for one, am able to see it.
Was it a coincidence that this incident happened just as we are about to enter Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year? Rhetorical question.
Yom Kippur was the only time of the year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. All year round no person ever entered this holy place. Anyone entering would not survive. Like a blinding light, the exposed spirituality of the place could not be contained and consumed all who entered.
Even when the High Priest would enter on Yom Kippur, it was only for a short while and after extensive preparations. Furthermore, he entered bound in ropes to drag him out if he carried any blemish and would perish as he entered!
What exactly is the Holy of Holies and why was it so inaccessible? What is the significance of entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur?
The mystics explain that Yom Kippur – which the Torah coins “achas b’sheno” (lit. once a year) – refers to the “achas,” the oneness and unity of the innermost dimension of the soul – yechida sheb’nefesh.
The soul as it were is comprised of five dimensions, one curled into the next: The surface level of the soul is Nefesh – sensory life. Layer two is Ruach – emotional life. Next is Neshomo – intellectual life, Chaya – transcendental and finally Yechida – oneness – the pure essence of the soul. Yechida, oneness, is the pintele yid – the inner dot, the purest point of your most intimate self. The inner child of innocence.
Our most tangible experiences are on the outer layers of the soul; what our surface senses and basic consciousness can perceive. But our truest and most meaningful experiences are on the inner levels of the soul, the deepest of them all – on the yechida level.
However, the deepest recesses of the soul are shrouded within its outer layers, which in turn are encased in the hard crust of the physical body and material universe.
This is the story of our lives. We are born pure and innocent children. Children who dream enchanted dreams, believe that everything is possible and expect the most. Vulnerable children – unpolluted and uncorrupted. Then life’s challenges being to seep into our experiences. We slowly (some faster than others) learn about deceit, disappointments and unrealized expectations. As the years roll on the outer layers of our soul and the body’s shell harden, innocence lost and expectations lowered. As we experience harsher realities many of our dreams and idealism wanes, until many of us come to a point of silent resignation, distracting ourselves with outer stimulation, anything that will relieve our existential loneliness. Some develop sharper tools like cynicism.
As much as we crave intimacy which resonates deep within us, the sad fact is that sensory stimulation consumes our daily lives, obfuscating our innocent essence, to the point that our inner life is most often left wanting if not plain starving.
So is there hope? Can we reach our inner child?
The answer is yes, but it is not a simple process.
Entering the souls’ holy of holies is not a light matter. We don’t enter there at will and without great care. Being the purest place in your heart and the most intimate dimension of the soul, yechida (the holy of holies) is extremely sensitive. Every subtle move, even the slightest quiver, has a dramatic impact on that most tender of places in our psyches. Observe a newborn child’s’ ultra sensitivity to touch and surroundings. This is why abuse that touches our intimacy, especially as young children, has such devastating consequences. By means of analogy: A strand of hair on your sleeve is harmless, but in your eye it is highly irritating. Our outer organs are protected from bacteria, but exposing our internal organs requires a highly sterilized environment. The subtler and purer the place, the greater the care necessary to preserve its pristine character.
But one day a year we are given the power to enter our holy of holies. And we enter with great care: We fast and suspend, as much as possible, our immersion in the material world. We spend the day in prayer and clothed in white – all to set the proper ambiance to enter the holiest place in our souls.
That one day is Yom Kippur – the day of the fifth dimension (hence, five prayers), when we celebrate yechida: The one and only day in the year when each of us has the power to access our innocence. On this day you can become like the High Priest and enter your own holy of holies.
On Yom Kippur you return to your child, to your innocence, to your purest place. But this time, the innocence and exuberance of the child comes joined with the seasoning and experience of an adult. [One of the most awesome sights is to witness the fusion of adulthood and childhood. Observe an elder who still maintains the twinkle – the spunk, enthusiasm and possibilities – of youth].
And therein lays the power of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur tells us that your child is never lost. Perhaps concealed. Maybe deeply concealed. Your child may be hiding. After your child has been hurt and disappointed, after he or she has seen how cruel people can be – your child goes into hiding. What emerges is an adult with a metal sheet of armor, an extensive and complex battery of defense mechanisms, protecting the vulnerable child from the pains of the world. Sometimes the child is so well concealed that the “mature adult” cannot even see his own child within.
But then we are given a day like Yom Kippur, when we are able to open the doors, and peer inside. And as we do – the child within is given the power, permission and strength to peer out back to us.
Can you see your child?
Even the most cynical among (and within) us has a pure side. Even the most jaded has a moment of truth. Yom Kippur teaches us the most vital message of hope: Never give up on your self – on your inner, pure self. No matter how challenging your life has become, no matter how worn down you are, despite your bitter disappointments, losses and wounds – your inner child always remains intact.
Even if you give up on everything, never give up on that pure child that lies embedded within you. That child – the holiest part of your heart and soul – may be your last vestige of your greatest potential, and the last refuge of hope.
If nothing else – one day a year hold on to what is most dear. Give your child, your soul, a chance to speak to you.
Cherish your child. Protect her. Nurture her tenderness. Above all, be kind to her. After all, she is you – the best of you.
Last night I presented a workshop on Yom Kippur. My friend’s lost hope in his inner child planted an idea in my mind which I subsequently suggested to the audience: As a Yom Kippur exercise to access your own innocent essence, find a childhood picture of yourself and study the photo. Then juxtapose it over your life today. Ask yourself: How far have I wandered from my own innocence? How much purity have I lost? How did I get from there to here? And how can I retrieve that purer part of myself? Ask G-d to help you find ways to reclaim your own innocence.
And perhaps, perhaps – as the Yom Kippur curtain closes with setting of the sun and the child goes back into hiding, she will feel a bit safer to show her face more often than just once a year.
The next day I called my friend and told him: Your painful hopelessness has given hope to a few hundred people.
I could feel the warm smile on the other end of the line.
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