Returning to Roots

During the closing service of Yom Kippur, we imagine the gates of teshuvah, repentance, closing. There is a tradition, though, that the gates remain open through Sukkot. We continue eating honey on our challah through the end of Sukkot, too, connecting these holidays together.

What an opportunity. Now that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are completed, with their accompanying flurry of meal preparation, synagogue services, family visits, time away from work and school, we still have time. Sukkot is called “zman simchateinu,” the time of our joy. Which joy?

This year I took a somewhat foolish trip to Montreal for a few days, returning to Toronto a few hours before Rosh Hashanah began. My husband and I were attending a friend’s wedding and took the opportunity to revisit our old haunts.

Walking along the streets of the Mile End, so many memories came back to me. Rue Avenue Lajoie, where we pulled our one-year-old daughter in a sled to the library and had to turn around half way because she was crying. My cousin’s house, where we spent so many Shabbat dinners in the bohemian spirit of the neighborhood. Our Chassidic neighbors’ house, where we heard megillah and borrowed bamboo for our sukkah. Congregation Dorshei Emet, where my daughter would run up and down the ramp to the bimah and where I became a preacher. I hadn’t been back in three years. It was like a delightful dream.

We sometimes think of teshuvah, of repentance, as needing to change who we are into someone else. But the root “shuv” at the heart of “teshuvah” means turning, turning away from what we don’t want, but also returning to the whole, holy, highest self we were created to be. Sometimes the memories fade and one day we look up and we’ve lost part of ourselves. What great joy to get those parts back, to be rooted again in the many selves I’ve been along the way. May we find joy in this “zman simchateinu” in the teshuvah of rediscovering our whole selves.

Originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.

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