We begin our Teshuvah journey by singing the song B’Shem HaShem to help us connect with the angelic realm—the realm of divine energy. With our song, we call forth the spiritual support we need to guide us in our process of Teshuvah: the process of returning to our truest self.
In the Name of the Divine, O G-d of Israel, and All Who Yearn for You
On my right is Michael; on my left is Gavriel
And before me is Uriel; behind me is R’fael
And above my head, is Shekhinah, Abiding Presence of Love.
The month of Elul, and the Jewish High Holy Days, are a gift. They are a time to step back from everyday life, slow down, and take a deep breath, as we prepare our souls to enter a new year.
Elul and the Days of Awe are like a mountain in time. And the work of Teshuvah is like a climb up to the top. Sometimes it’s strenuous! When we arrive, we are quiet and thoughtful, with new perspective on our lives.
Up we climb. With each step, we listen to our deepest, wisest inner voice, and hear it as a shofar calling us to awaken and grow.
From the mountaintop, we can see the whole past year. Here, we can ask ourselves an essential question: In the past year, how deeply did I embody compassion, and in what ways do I still need to learn, heal, and transform?
From our perch on this mountaintop in time, we can make a map to guide us toward greater compassion and vitality in the coming year.
Our map will have the form of a wheel.
There will be 5 sections on the wheel—four sections corresponding to each of the angels in the song, and Shekhinah in the center. We can be creative and free in how we design it. Here is one example of how the wheel could look:
The angelic imagery and song come from the traditional Jewish bedtime prayers. These prayers help us reflect on the day, let it go, and enter the coming day whole and clear.
So we’re going to draw on the bedtime liturgy to help us look back on the year, and let go of it, and move into a new year.
There will be various questions read aloud to guide our reflection about the past year. We can draw or write whatever comes up for us on a piece of separate paper.
Then, there will be some questions that help us envision the year to come. We can then write and draw our responses on our wheel. This way, the wheel will express our intentions for the new year, and our deepest wisdom about ourselves.
In all your reflections, it might help to think of the angels as vessels through which the Holy One is pouring support into you during this exploration.
Wonder, amazement, marveling. Mi-cha-el literally means, Who Is Like El, the Amazing One? Wonder is linked to a state of “flow.” It also has the power to awaken tenderness and lovingkindness.
When have I experienced a sense of wonder in the past year?
How did my sense of wonder bless or contribute to those around me?
In what context have I lacked a sense of wonder in the past year?
What was it about those situations that made it hard to feel wonder?
Did my absence of wonder cause injury or hurt? To whom?
How do I want to address that harm?
What is my vision for myself in the realm of wonder and radical amazement?
What can do I in the coming year, in this situation, to help myself remember to feel wonder—to marvel at creation?
Gavriel’s name is connected with Gevurah, which means structure, form or strength. Gavriel and Michael balance one another.
In the past year, how was the balance between structure and flow in my life? Were there times of excessive structure leading to feeling suppressed? Were there times of insufficient structure, leading to feelings of overwhelm?
How was the balance between acts of tikkun olam and tikkun ha-nefesh? (in other words, the balance between the physical realm and the spiritual realm)
How was the balance between coming toward people with preconceived structures, and giving them space to allow them to be themselves?
What might have led to any imbalances?
If there was an imbalance, what harm may have been caused by it?
How do I want to address that harm?
What can I do in the coming year to enhance balance in my life?
What changes can I make so the structures in my life are more life-affirming, and more aligned with connection with myself and with the world?
Healer of wounds. Restorer of balance.
This past year, what healing have I experienced around spiritual and emotional wounds?
Childhood wounds? Wounds from adulthood? Ancestral wounds?
How has that healing helped my heart to open?
This past year, have any of my wounds led to hurtful words and actions?
What harm might have occurred?
How do I want to address that harm?
How do I express compassion for myself in my own healing process?
What part of myself carries my wounding?
What does it look like (or sound like or feel like) when this wounded part of me is loved and cared for by me?
What spiritual or emotional healing do I yearn for in the New Year?
Light. A guided meditation to share, followed by time to complete our wheel with expressions of light.
Find a comfortable position to be in. Allow your body to relax, and let your eyes gently close.
Now imagine you walking along a path through a dense and lovely forest. All around you is lush and green. You breathe deeply, and inhale the scent of trees and plants growing, and the scent of earth. A soft wind is blowing. You continue walking peacefully and contentedly. Soon the path opens onto a beach. You emerge from the forest, and walk toward the ocean. You stop at the water’s edge, and look out to the horizon. You can hear the leaves rustling in the wind behind you, in the forest.
Feel the wind dancing on your skin. Mmmm…so peaceful and relaxing. Safe.
Now, open your hand, and imagine you are holding a basket. This basket contains all the times when you missing the mark from the past year. Times when you weren’t your best self, weren’t acting the way you wanted to act. Feel the weight of this basket in your hands. And now think to yourself, I can release this. I can let it all go. Then, feel the wind come and swirl around you, pick up the basket, and carry it far away, across the sea and toward the horizon.
Feeling relieved, notice how inviting the water looks. Let yourself walk into a bit. It is comforting, warm and soothing. Allow yourself to walk a little more into it. Let yourself immerse. You are now held like a baby in the womb. Stay here for a while…
After a time, you emerge from the water. On the shore, you notice another person next to you, who has emerged from the water alongside you.
This person seems to be made of light, with no form, just an incredible warmth and radiance. Who is this person? Look closely. This person is you. You are beholding your own beautiful light.
Slowly, you move toward one another, and merge. The light is fully within you now. You go into the light, and the light goes into you. The ocean shimmers in reflection of your radiance.
You are an exquisite being, filled with light, and ready for the new year. Your actions and words will now come from your inner light.
Divine Presence. The experience of infinite love, calm and wholeness when we feel the Divine Presence resting in us.
Now that we have completed our journey in the angelic circle, we pause to notice Shekhinah above our head, and in our heart.
May we bless the past year, and all that happened in it, even as we lean into change and transformation.
May the New Year bring blessing and deep healing for all of us.
(Close with a song expressing unity—something simple and which invites participation. This exploration has likely been a time of tenderness, honesty and vulnerability. When everyone sings together, the blending of voices can offer comfort and a sense of emotional safety. It enables people to emerge from the circle feeling held by a sense of overarching love and oneness.)
At various times in this ritual, it may feel right for people to share insights, thoughts and feelings. One possible time is after the Gavriel Section. Another possible time is after the Shekhinah section, before the closing song. Or whenever feels right.
This sharing can enhance the process and deepen trust among the group. However, too much conversation would detract from the atmosphere of quiet calm which is needed for deep inner work.
The guiding questions can be adapted based on what feels right in the moment.
Even with the asynchronicity of online singing, it is powerful to sing together at the end.