Forgive Us, O Lord, For We Have Drunk A LOT of Coffee.
Summer is behind us, fall is in swing; we all feel it in the air. It is a time of beginnings and endings. The start of harvest season means the end of the growing season is fast approaching. The beginning of apple season means the peaches are almost done. And the approach of the Jewish holidays means we're wrapping up another lunar year. There is an acute sense of pre-holiday urgency that comes around my body every year, and it set in for me today, so the High Holy Days are top of mind.
Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, is widely known as a fast day. Those who observe traditionally neither eat nor drink for a period of about 25 hours, from the time the sun sets on the eve of Yom Kippur until three stars appear the following night, marking the end of the holiday. A day without food is hard. A day without water, even harder. A day without coffee is just ridiculous. How are you supposed to spend the whole day in solemn prayer when the whole world is just one ball of fuzz?
Here’s my solution:
Yom Kippur is the culmination of the period on the calendar called aseret yemei tshuva, the ten days of tshuva. How you translate tshuva makes all the difference in how you view this ten-day period that starts with Rosh HaShanah, the new year. The word is commonly translated as “repentance,” and these days are indeed a time for reflection on what we’ve done in the past and how we can do better going forward. There are rituals for atoning for sins, both for those that have affected other people and for those that are just between the person and the Divine. I would add to the latter category acts of self-denigration and self sabotage; the times we’ve been unforgiving, harsh, and judgmental towards ourselves.
But to translate tshuva as just “repentance” is flat. The linguistic root of the word means “return,” and it suggests returning to a relationship with the Divine, returning to oneself. Hitting the reset button. Personally, I take this ten-day period as an opportunity to hit the resent button on my caffeine addiction. It’s something I like to do at least once a year anyway to keep me from getting into triple espresso territory, and it has the added double bonus of being both thematically appropriate and a Yom Kippur lifesaver.
By taking a full ten days to do it instead of just three or four, I get a chance to live with myself in my raw, decaffeinated state for a little while. It really is a return to a different self. And by the time Yom Kippur comes around, I am once again capable of focus and interaction without the aid of stimulants. I won’t go as far as to say that I am or ever have been able to spend an entire day in solemn prayer. I’m banking on the hope that the One in the Sky knows a thing or two about managing expectations.