Hotel Teshuvah, Beijing

Staying in a hotel room in Beijing on Yom Kippur was a totally new experience. Leave out the fact that I have lived here for 18 years: for the first time, I was here alone, without my wife and son, and with no home to go to.

No TV. No computer. No Kindle. No books. No room service. No mini-bar. No iPad. No smartphone. And not much of a view – you don’t stay on the 39th floor on Yom Kippur (or Shabbos, for that matter.)

Just a thunderstorm outside my window and a soft bed beneath my back. Did I sleep? It was probably the best night’s sleep I have had in months, maybe longer.

There is a lesson in that, I think.

Yom Kippur Schmatta of a Bar Noach

Under my Kittel during Yom Kippur I wore comfortable clothes: blue jeans, non-leather tennis shoes, thick socks, and an oversized polo shirt.

I learned my lesson the hard way: teshuvah, Chabad-style, is work. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting, it is a process for which a coat, tie, and slacks are unsuited (no pun intended.) A nice suit may show respect for the holiday, but more functional attire, IMHO, shows determination, focus, and commitment.

Or so I told myself.

A Wet Walk

As I was walking back to my hotel after Kol Nidre after the Yom Kippur evening service and a post-service discussion, a light drizzle turned into a downpour. Lightning flashed, thunder bellowed, and the late-summer cloudburst drenched to the skin.

I could be trite and say that I felt cleansed. Outside, I did. Inside, though, I felt even more the weight of how far I have strayed. I have never in my life felt more strongly the need for Teshuvah.

Thank You, Chabad Beijing!

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m incredibly grateful for the remarkable warmth, and love with which I was welcomed (back) into the Chabad Beijing community. Yom Kippur away from these wonderful people is, after over a decade in their fold, unimaginable. I will definitely have to arrange to come back every year — and, of course, many times in between.

Thank you to Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, Rebbetzin Dini Freundlich, Rabbi Nosson Rodin, the wise and learned Zalman Lipskar, and the entire Rawack family. Teshuvah never felt so comforting!

Epistle to the Doomsayers

Atheist or faithful, it is incumbent on all of us to celebrate humanity and seek to fulfill the promise of our species, dosed with humility and gratitude.

Obsessing about the evils wrought by mankind, our various failings, and positing a dreary future for all is has some value in that it keeps us all aware of the problems. But suggesting that there is no hope is a waste of time. If you truly believe the worst and cannot convince yourself of the best, my only advice would be to dig a hole, line it with concrete, fill it with food, water and comic books, and await Ragnarok.

But really, we’d rather you join us. We’ve got a world to fix, after all.

My Yom Kippur Lessons

A few lessons I took from Yom Kippur this year.

  • Teshuvah begins with forgiving everyone else for being imperfect.
  • You can’t have true teshuvah without approaching life with a feeling of gratitude. That’s actually a core tenet of success, and opens the road to humility.
  • My problem is pride. The antidote is reflection, gratitude, humility, and study.
  • I have allowed my relationship with Hashem to whither a bit. That is the true source of my discontent.

Now if only I can keep those in mind over the next year.