The highly symbolic metaphor of writing punctuates (pun intended) our High Holiday experience. God, after all, is not just a creator or an orator. God is a writer, scribbling notes about our lives in cosmic journals. And then once a year – with utmost seriousness - God inscribes our names, hopefully, in the Book of Life. And we too are writers. The authors of our actions. Indeed, if this season of Repentance is to teach us anything, it is that we are all struggling writers; scrawling out our books of life – hoping they will be found acceptable (publishable?) in the eyes of the divine. Just as writers sweat and struggle to but write a good piece, we are all striving to live powerfully, eloquently. Thus, to carry this metaphor forward, the image of editing becomes expressive of the ‘teshuva’ process. For, essentially, editing is a process of going over what you have done and fixing the mistakes. Yes, the essence of the piece of work/of the year, will remain the same, but our glaring mistakes, the problems in our “text”, can be smoothed out by a good editing job. Teshuva is thus doing a conscientious review, an act of spiritual re-writing. The poem below attempts to articulate these ideas. Its title is “Submission”. And, of course, the very title “Submission” captures the dual meaning of both submitting ourselves to a higher power and submitting our work to a publisher or critic. Either way, we are under scrutiny of some overseer.
In our modern era of autonomy and self-empowerment, the word ‘submission’ grates at our egalitarian ears. And yet the idea of submitting to God or to social/tribal rules is one of the main themes of traditional Judaism. The crowning refrain of the High Holidays is that of declaring God as our King. And of course a King is one to whom we necessarily submit. Thus, the title “Submission” at once evokes and softens the traditional notion of ‘submitting’ to God. It is not just that we are submitting ourselves to an authority, but we are submitting our work, our lives, our creativity to be reviewed by God, the publisher, the mentor, the teacher...and in the end, the King.
*Submission Days ofinscriptionof submissionbefore God bentBack curved as a comma,or an end quotation mark…”Having spokenhaving scrawled the letters of our liveson claf, cow hideAll have bentink black nights over their works- Writing with dead linesWe submitrough draft in trembling clawHaving carved out of stone Cumbersome Tablets Of a twelve month taleDays of Awetobiographic aweLapping up a page of whitenessWith a pin’s thirsty tip Sent to pressthe Book of LifeencyclopedicvoluminousEach name a manuscript of events sins scribbled like a stowaway writing wishes from the bowels of a bottom-born ship- or praises poured like honey to mask the poison of the dish All of us in need of a good editorto make structural emendationsspelling corrections, verb replacementsFor a life lived in stream of consciousmust be crafted by master’s fingers, opposing thumbsinto something well worth readingwhen at last the year is done So, pray, let us write a masterpiecelet us be published in the world to come
Teshuva/Editing exercise One of the main themes of Rosh Hashana is rememberance (zikronot). We utilize memory as a tool of teshuva. We reflect on the past year and in so doing we can, to an extent, recreate it. Step 1: Think back on the year. Write about the year that is finishing. (Note - use black or blue ink pen). Focus specifically on what you did that you wish you hadn’t; that you wish had gone differently. Write a few paragraphs. Be honest, even brutally honest. Recognizing our mistakes is essential to the teshuva process. Step 2: Once you have lamented over them sufficiently, take a red pen in your hand – literally. With that pen go over the page and change the verbs. Fix…edit…them. Be imaginative, be daring. A simple example: If you had written, “I ate so much,” change the ‘ate’ to ‘prayed’…. Thus creating, “I prayed so much.” - Or whatever your preferred verb would be. Next fix the adjectives, adverbs, nouns, etc. Or add new ones.This is the point of teshuva…that our deeds are written in erasable script. We can go back and edit and transform the piece. Teshuva is like pressing ‘Select All’ on the computer screen and changing the font or size of the entire word file…all in one elegant movement. Exercise 2 - Recommendation Letter: Write to God a recommendation letter for why you think that your piece/ ie your year…should be accepted in to the “Book of Life Anthology”. Praise your piece/your year. Accentuate the good you have done. Be as convincing as possible. Tell how much tzedaka you gave…recount that time you spent 45 minutes listening compassionately to the kvetching of the elderly lady down the street, for the twelfth time, etc. Step 2: If you''re doing this exercise with a group: Each participant puts their writings in an envelope, self-addressed. Mention how the official teshuva period stretches all the way to Hannukah, when the final final sealing of the book of life happens. Mail these pages back to their author right before Hannukah so that they can be reminded of the process, feel the power of the holiday cycle and see how they are doing in their new year.