I ran into one woman outside of the sanctuary on Yom Kippur. She was sitting on the floor playing with her young son. She had lost her mother earlier that year. “I am furious at God,” she told me. “Ever since my mother died I have been furious at God. I have no intention of going in there and praying or saying anything to God.”
But she had come to shul anyway. It was Yom Kippur. She and her partner were raising a child. She was angry at God that her mother had not lived to know the grandson who would surely have brought her so much joy. But this woman and her partner were creating a family, continuing the chain of their Jewish families. They wanted their son to be a part of their Jewish community.
She didn’t go into the sanctuary that year. She may not have gone in the next year either. But she kept coming to shul, with her partner and their son. Even as she raged with God she knew that for her Jewish family, marking the holidays and coming to shul was essential. She wasn’t asking God for forgiveness. She wanted God to ask her for forgiveness, for taking her mother away before her son had a chance to know his grandmother. And it seemed like Yom Kippur was the right time for that.
Each year as the fullness of summer begins to wane and the moon of the month of Elul swells and subsides, the season of teshuvah returns. Teshuvah is a gift and a challenge. It is slow work. There is no magic formula that will suddenly heal all that has shattered in our lives. We build community; we explore and reconcile with Judaism; we search for God. Every year as we return to this season we are painfully aware of what is still broken.
But each year doing teshuvah reminds us that we may begin to repair what is broken. We may recover that which has been lost. Teshuvah reminds us that wholeness is possible.