Life before repentance
I have been re-visiting Judaism this past year, reflecting on what is deeply meaningful in the rituals, stories and traditions of my ancestors. Jung’s comments that rituals and dogma exist to contain both elements of awe and fear in face of the unknown stir me powerfully. (Jung ) We need a container that will allow us to experience the numinosum and be related to it without being destroyed. Yet those very rituals and dogma can lose their power over time and become rigid and lifeless.
So while I do not attend a synagogue or say the prayers, I am aware of the passages of celebrations of my tradition and seek to make sense of them as an archetypal pattern analyst. What is it that I see and feel happening, what stirs within that is of value to me and maybe to others about what it means to be human in relationship to the great mystery - Psyche, God or the numinosum?
This past Wednesday night at sundown marked the celebration of Jewish New Year, known as Rosh Hashanah, or the head of the year. Liturgically, this marks the beginning of reading the entire five books of the Hebrew Scriptures which continues to the end of the year. This cyclical reading embeds the people in the stories, rituals and celebrations that contain the meaning of what it means to be God’s people in relationship to one another and to their highest spiritual value, God.
New Year is celebrated by eating sweet things, apples in honey, cakes, pomegranates in a ritual of ‘participation mystique’, as though by ingesting sweetness and potential, it will come true in our lives for the succeeding year.
Ten days later, New Years is followed by the most Awesome day of the Year, the Day of Judgment, or Yom Kippur. This day is spent in communal fasting, reading, worshipping, confessing one’s transgressions against one’s neighbors, self, family and God. The days leading up to Yom Kippur are filled with introspection, who and how did I harm? What do I need to do to atone for that hurt? Will I be inscribed in the Book of Life one more year?
It’s always been curious to me that we celebrate the sweetness of life, the beginning of the New Year before we know whether we will be allowed to live! It always seemed backwards, we should do the hard work and then rejoice. I initially thought that the way it made sense was to look at New Year as the archetypal beginning of life, that life renews itself because that is Nature. It is not personal, whether or not I am inscribed in the Book of Life is not important to Life, although it may be important to me.
But then, it occurred to me that the sequence is correct. What comes first is the paradise of oneness. Life is sweet and full of potential. But after Paradise, comes consciousness, and with it, the pain and suffering of separation and alienation from the One. (Edinger)
Yom Kippur offers us the way back, a re-union which is not a returning to the infantile state of utter dissolution into the One, but a mature and aware recognition of our human fallibilities. We must be willing to do the hard work of reparation and restoration in the human realm in order to be reconciled with the Source of our Being. Whatever name we give it, God, Psyche, Atman, numinosum, the only way to it is through our humanity and our humility. Thank God for Rosh Hashanah that gives us the strength to face the difficult task of repentance and at-one-ment. That is sweet indeed.
Edinger, Edward F., (1992). Ego and Archetype: Individuation and the
Religious Function of the Psyche. Boston: Shambala.
Jung, C. G. (1938). Psychology and Religion. London: Yale University Press