Updated: Oct 3, 2021
In honor of the 10 days of Teshuva and Yom Kippur, I decided to put to practice the following quote: Refraining from eating food or drink that one truly desires is an excellent form of repentence (Elya Rabbah 170:20). The word in Hebrew for repentance is teshuva which really doesn’t mean repentance but return (For more on Teshuva, check out Issue #20 about fasting). When I was in Israel during the period known as the 9 days of Av 1 to Av 9 (Tisha B'Av), I didn’t drink coffee. On September 14 there was a power outage at my home from tropical storm Nicholas, which meant no hot water for coffee, so as I felt the discomfort and realized Yom Kippur was about one night away, I decided to embrace the refrain.
That morning during meditation I also reflected on the concept of teshuva and what it means because when it’s internalized it is such a joyful and sweet awareness; as written in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) 4:17, “One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life in the World to Come.”
Imagine setting after a goal and preparing diligently for it, only to fall short again and again and again. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to swallow. Yet, you dig deeper and deeper contemplating where to improve with each attempt. Until, when it’s least expected, you arrive and are crowned champion and the transformation tastes that much sweeter. You have returned to a higher level and continue to return closer to the present moment. The things that used to be disruptive are no longer present, it has been wiped away; that which used to seem like a problem is no longer a problem.
In many sections in the Tanya, Iggeret teshuva, the Alter (meaning the first) Rebbe discusses two levels of teshuva (like on Tammuz 7, 5781). The lower level being of the initial pain for having done something out of alignment and starting to commit to not doing it again (E.g getting an illness and having to treat it with antibiotics). The higher level of teshuva is, now after the first level, a transformation with no temptation from the initial pain (E.g committing to a new healthy regimen - here’s a good place to mention my coaching services 😉 ). This higher level of teshuva has come about after the struggle and experience of the unpleasant pain and stress, which, like the example of achieving a goal after falling short many times, has led the person to a higher level of health, performance, or whatever the growth was in, that the person would not have achieved otherwise. As our sages declared: “In the place where Baalei Teshuvah stand, even the completely righteous are not able to stand” (7:4). In simple terms, one who went from loss to success reaches higher than one who only knows success.
Yom Kippur concluded last night and we all went beyond external things like food. As my Rabbi mentioned when the fast ended, the reason there’s a fast is because on Yom Kippur we rise to such a level beyond G-dliness as we know it in this world to the essential place of G-d; it is completely above anything physical so there’s no need or even place for food or things physical. It is in this state above things physical that we can ascend above the seeming problems in our life (by not placing attention on physical things) and view our life from a greater perspective; a perspective that is so beyond any problems that when we return to our lives from the holy day, we hopefully have gained insight into solving that problem. This greater awareness comes from living in a state of having already solved the problem, which is one of joy and gratitude. Then, the days are lived with a greater awareness and the relationship we have with physical things (people, places, things, food) has evolved to a healthier one; for it is more than not the things themselves that are bad, but our relationship with them that requires a new approach. After having refrained from drinking coffee for a few days, I can enjoy it from a place of not needing it. Furthermore, it really does have quite awesome health benefits, but perhaps requires some breaks.
Weekend action item: Take a look at the things (food, people, environments, items, etc) in your life and the thoughts and emotions around them. This is what creates the relationship with those things. Then, rise above it (by taking a break from your phone, if it’s a food take a break from it, etc.) to see how you can improve your relationship with it and see it in a new light.
Quote I'm Pondering
A wise man is better than a prophet Bava Batra 12a