Five years ago, when I moved into my house in Tekoa, Israel, there was a hard, green high backed chair with spindly legs left in the house by the landlady. It wasn't very comfortable so I moved it outside and put it in the garden.
The day of Rosh Hashanah, I came home early. I didn't feel like being in shul all day. I fell asleep and there was a knock on the door. It was a woman I didn't know. She was young with curly black hair and had three kids with her, all under the age of six.
She said, "I don't mean to bother you, but I'm new here, and could you tell me where you got that chair?" Her accent was definitely South African.
"It was left here by the landlady."
"I don't mean to be rude," she said, "but I think that's my chair."
Then she told me all about the chair -- how she had it in her dining room when she was very young, living with her family in South Africa. Then they had made aliyah in 1977 and the chair had accompanied them. Tanya had painted it green and put it in her room. Then they'd moved back to South Africa again. Her mother had died from breast cancer and now Tanya was back in Israel and well, it looked like her chair.
We walked outside. She picked up the chair and turned it over. "You see, it was once pink and now it's green. I painted it green when I put it in my room."
She looked at it. She sat on it.
"This chair has a lot of memories for me."
"Well I guess you can have it," I said.
"I'll come back for it after Rosh Hashanah." And she did.
Sometimes ownership is more a matter of love than possession.
Rosh Hashanah is a time to see underneath the layers of personality we paint on ourselves to find the true divine essence of ourselves.
It seemed like a strange thing to happen on Rosh Hashanah. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Rosh Hashanah was essentially about returning things to their places, to their source. Tanya was the rightful owner of that chair. She would always value that chair because it connects her to her mother and her childhood and her childhood home. Even if she were going to change the color of that chair and strip it down, she would do so lovingly. So too God, when He judges us, He does so with love because He wants us to find our true place in the world. A place that is closer to our source.
This chair was so welcome to Tanya because it told her that if even if she had moved across oceans, even if her mother had died, she still had part of her home anchored here.
God is our home, and He pulls us closer to Him, but we resist. It's hard to recognize Him as our home, when we have such lovely decorated rooms with carpeting and plush couches.
But we are all part of the process of finding our way home to God, to the Jewish people, to Israel. God is calling us all home. That is the sound of the shofar, the sound of brokenness. It is when we are broken that we need God and recognize God as our true home.
For me, after my 13-year-old son Koby was murdered four years ago, the world didn't draw me in the same way it once did. The world was no longer so comfortable. I need a bigger world, one that includes Koby and God.
God is in this world but He is not the world. He is bigger than the world.
Rosh Hashanah is all about returning things to their sources, returning ourselves to a deeper purity. God is our ultimate address, our real owner, the seat of our being. Rosh Hashanah is a time to see underneath the layers of personality we paint on ourselves to find the true divine essence of ourselves. It is a time for our personalities, our quotidian selves, to be quiet so that our soul can speak.