By Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer
A central theme of Yom Kippur is teshuvah, repentance or return to God. And within the command to do teshuvah in Parshat Nitzavim, which we read in our temple on Yom Kippur is the verse, “Vahashevota el levavecha” “And you shall return to your heart.” (Deuteronomy 30:1) The Torah considers the heart as our “God Connection.”
Rabbi Norman Lamm emphasizes the importance of teshuvah, and the recognition that each of us embrace heart transformation on Yom Kippur. We are commanded to transform our heart so that it becomes a storehouse of courage, ethics, and moral strength. Each one of us should participate in a spiritual heart transplant; looking back over the past year and creating within ourselves a new heart that is wide open to the Presence of God.
There is a wonderful Kabbalistic meditation based on this Torah portion, Nitzavim, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts…so that you will love the Lord with all your heart.” (Deut. 30:6) I see circumcising our hearts as the opportunity for us to create a spiritual transplant. We open our hearts to the extent that we become more accessible to Hashem every day. The heart has a covering or sheath that keeps us separate from the four chambers of the heart, which are connected to Hashem. When we erase this sheath through meditation, through bittul ha yesh, we then can have direct access to the Deity and learn more clearly what God wants to tell us in our lives, our purpose and our path. This comes about through a spiritual heart transplant, by returning to our heart, by doing a highly spiritual activity of teshuvah.
1. We begin by sitting quietly, being aware of our inner and outer breathing. We should do this meditation and all other meditations in a special room in our house, which we call the miat meek-dash. When we meditate in a special room on a regular basis, divine energy is built in this space. I see this happening all the time when I meditate regularly with my parishioners in front of the Ark.
2. Close your eyes and imagine you are in an open field. Visualize everything you can about the field – some farmhouses, cows, horses, maybe even some farmers tending to the animals.
3. Imagine there is a ladder right next to you. It is firmly entrenched into the ground, and reaches high into the sky. It is a very sturdy ladder. Don’t be afraid to climb it. But if you do decide to climb it, first think how it would feel to climb the ladder and how you are feeling at this time.
4. You can either open your eyes and end the visualization, or you can climb the ladder. If you climb the ladder, you see at the top of the ladder a gate, with a guard. Perhaps he is a guardian angel. You intuitively know the right word that allows the guard to open the gate and invite you in. You are in the most luscious beautiful garden you have ever seen. And as you are walking through this amazing garden, or replica of Gan Eden, you feel the Presence of God, sharing with you a purpose in your life. You are amazed and inspired. You have made contact with the inner chambers of your heart. And by so
doing, you have made greater contact with God. You are doing what Scriptures says you should do—you are returning to your heart.
5. You now see another gate, with an angel, protecting its entrance. Again, you intuitively know the right word that allows the angel to open the gate. Do you wish to enter? Or do you wish to end your visualization, and go back to the first gate and climb down the ladder into the amazing open field. If you wish to go deeper into your heart, to participate more fully in this Yom Kippur spiritual transplant, you give the angel the mystic word that allows you to enter the second chamber or second mystic area. You decide to walk through the gate, and you see before you a most wonderful academy of Hebrew scholarship. There are thousands and thousands of books, lining the walls on such subjects as Kabbalah, Torah, Talmud, philosophy and Hebrew languages. You are spellbound. As you spend much time looking at, and even reading these texts, you discover another sacred purpose that Hashem has planned for you when you were born. You are overwhelmed with joy and inspiration. And further overwhelmed by your being able to intuit God’s Presence within you, because you were able to do bittul ha yesh, to nullify the sheath that separates you from the depths of Divinity. But you are proud and overjoyed that you have done a spiritual heart transplant.
6. After many hours of study, you see another gate. This time you wish to go back. You leave the library fully filled with another purpose Hashem has for you. You then travel through the lush, magnificent garden remembering how you made contact with Hashem, and discovered one of His goals for you in your life here on earth. You go through the gate, climb down the ladder. You are back in this wonderful meadow and you make a promise on this Yom Kippur, that you will spend the New Year accessing all four chambers of your heart and learning and practicing and doing what Hashem wants you to do with your life. You make a vow to Hashem that you will regularly do this meditation throughout the year, transplanting the sheath for a fervent desire to know your relationship with Hashem more fully. And “you shall return to your heart” shall be your mantra throughout the New Year.