The two days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) usher in Ten days of Repentance which end on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is during these days that observant Jews review their actions of the previous year, identify sins and repent.
On the tenth day, Yom Kippur, there is 24 hours of fasting, reviewing internally sins and previous behaviors, repenting, and pledging to improve in the next year. It is a day of prayer asking the Almighty to grant us a year of peace, prosperity, and blessing.
A common greeting during these holy days is, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year.” Another tradition during this time is to go to a body of water and throw in pieces of bread, to symbolize the casting away of previous sins.
To mark the occasion of the festivals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a young adult from Western Australia shares her spiritual journey as someone who was born into the Jewish faith and embraced also the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
"For me the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba always made sense. The simple way in which He was able to describe the complexities of this world meant that I always had answers at my fingertips. The challenge for me was marrying these teachings within the religion and culture to which I belonged.
My hometown, Perth is often joked of as being one of, if not THE most isolated city in the world. It is with mirth and a little pride that Perth-ites remind this to anyone who will listen. Vacationers who holiday in our fair city describe it as an ‘overgrown country town’. As a young girl, growing up I went to Synagogue on Friday nights and Saturday mornings with my father, attended the only Jewish school (learning Jewish subjects alongside the academic ones), and socialized in a Jewish community that was by no means diverse in its thinking.
For those who don’t know, fundamental to the Jewish religion are the 10 commandments. The first four are commandments relating to God. Essentially they are:
- I am the LORD thy God.
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall have no graven images or likenesses (referring to idol worship).
- You shall not take the LORD's name in vain.
You can imagine the implications of a Jewish family who worshiped at the feet of a guru in India, had images in their home of such a man, sung devotional songs using the names of many Gods every week, or worse yet referred to a man as God incarnated. This was something I needed to be able to explain to myself as well as to others in the close knit community of which I was a part.
Luckily for me one of the subjects I was required to take at school was Tanach. In this class we learned the various Rabbinical interpretations of different Bible passages. I learned quickly that if even the most learned Rabbis could have different interpretations and ideas about a simple sentence, it meant that every belief we were taught was simply an interpretation of a teaching. This revelation opened up everything and allowed me the space to reconcile my two seemingly conflicting philosophies. Subsequently I became an astute student in Tanach lessons to the point where my teacher at the time suggested that I attend a Yeshiva, which is a school for studying The Bible as he believed I had a talent for it. I had decided to learn the rules well, so that I could bend them effectively and I did not have to wait long…
I remember as if it were yesterday, I was twelve years old sitting at the table in my family home. We were having afternoon tea with my uncle and his family who were all very religious. We had ordered Kosher food and my mother had spent the morning making a special cheesecake using specific utensils to ensure that it was Kosher as well. The family were all enjoying the food and the conversation when the topic of vegetarianism came up. Over the previous couple of years my family had decided to follow Sathya Sai Baba’s teaching in that regard and although I had not been forced to do so, I had followed my own conscience and decided to make the change as well.
My uncle, a well-intentioned and lovely man on that day decided it was his role to convince and ‘educate’ me on the religious arguments for eating the flesh of animals. He told me that it was a mitzvah (good deed) to eat meat on the Sabbath and then informed me that God had given mankind dominion over all the animals and permission to eat them, provided they were Kosher of course.
What my uncle did not know was that I had been listening intently during my Tanach lessons. I politely advised him that the good deed of the Sabbath was to make it special and I did not feel that the killing and eating of an animal made it feel special to me. I then shared with him that according to The Torah in the time of Noah all humans were vegetarian and this was clearly the ideal as stated in the Tanach—that as caretakers of the animal kingdom we had the choice to be good caretakers and that this was an important principle for me.
From that day I realized that I could put my own spin onto the teachings of both Judaism and Sathya Sai Baba provided that I followed my own intuition. Intuition to me signifies the highest part of ourselves, the part that is one with everything and is in touch with universal truth. My father who had begun to study Kabballah (mystic Judaism) shared with me what he was learning in this regard. He taught me that according to Kabballah God was omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent —these are the same words that were used by Sathya Sai Baba and it reminded me that truth is one and unchanging. I decided that if God was in everything, then where was God not? The logical conclusion of that thought was that I was a part of everything as well, which meant that God must be in me too! This implied that I had access to all the answers inside me. Alongside this realization I also understood that there was a difference between knowing you are God and experiencing and living it. I saw Sai Baba as someone who had traveled the road and had achieved the ultimate and so he became a role model for me.
This month Jews around the world will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) which is the holiest time in the Jewish calendar. Jews believe that on Rosh Hashanah the Almighty inscribes those who will be written into The Book of Life for the following year … and those who will not be. During the 10-day period between the two festivals the custom is that individuals reflect on the year that has passed and atone and apologize for the wrongs that they have committed. The notion being that true repentance and atonement can cause one’s name to be inscribed in the Book of Life when it may previously not have been. On the day of Atonement this inscription is sealed.
Self-awareness and self-reflection are pillars of this time and they oblige us to continue to strive to become the best versions of ourselves. I feel grateful that I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn in this classroom of life and be presented with the ability to transform and move closer to the ultimate goal of experiencing oneness with all. I wish all people reading this a sweet, happy and healthy new year and may you all be inscribed and sealed in 'The Book of Life.'"
Dana Ellert, Australia