This week, I had the honor of joining a beloved congregant as she finished her week of shiva. We have a Jewish custom of “getting up.” Physically rising from one’s seat and intentionally taking a walk around the block to signify a return to life, a return to one’s routine and what is familiar.
However, the return home is altered. The familiar still looks unfamiliar. There is a walking back into the world in which our loved one is no longer physically present. The getting up is a stark and necessary reminder that even when home feels irreparably changed, we must continue forward. Forward with a cushion of memories. Forward with our community embracing each step. Forward with a willingness to experience the world anew.
Is this not the definition of teshuvah? Teshuvah means “return.” We walk into the Jewish New Year, yearning for a return home. A return to self. A return to a more righteous and moral path. During the Hebrew month of Elul, we engage in a process in which we recognize both the changes within us and the changes we hope to see. But like the walk around the block after shiva, the return home is met with surprise and perhaps, unforeseen astonishment. While this year certainly doesn’t look the same as last, our tradition still encourages us to engage in a rigorous inward journey. Jewish soul-searching is not stagnant process.
May the beginning of Elul be a reminder to get up. Let us walk into Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with a sense of return. The path may look a bit different.
But it is a path we walk on together.