Coming Home for the High Holy Days
Thomas Hart Benton, the celebrated American Artist, left his native Missouri as a young man to pursue a career as an artist. For many years, studied and worked at his craft in Paris and New York, among other places, before he eventually made his way back to the Midwest. It was upon returning home to his roots, that Benton found his artistic voice and method, becoming one of the first and great regionalist painters of the 20th century
The wanderlust that characterized much of his early behavior remained a part of his soul into his later years, a process which became critical to Benton’s great works. Preparation for painting his grand murals included traveling to a specific city, rural area or state where he might stay for months at a time interviewing locals, learning the area history and creating hundreds of preliminary sketches. This was a lengthy and often arduous process. He is quoted as saying: “Experience is the only thing that changes form.” Going away and fully immersing in an environment informed and inspired Benton, and only then could he come home and put brush to canvas.
Coming home describes the central spiritual task at this High Holy Day season: teshuva, repentance or returning. Each of us undertakes cheshbon nefesh, or deep soul searching. We review our deeds of the past year, make amends, and resolve to change and do better in the coming year. The rabbis describe this as a spiritual homecoming: home to the roots of our goodness, our righteousness, our essence. When we arrive home, G-d stands ready to accept us, ready to walk with us on next year’s journey.
Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto taught that there is a creative process in repentance. While teshuva means repentance or return, teshuva is no simple return. We return to who we are meant to be, but have not yet become. We return to growth and possibility that has lain dormant within us but has not flourished, much as a sculpture lies hidden within a rough block of stone. It is hard work to uncover what lay beneath the surface.
Each year, our souls travel far and wide, at times on rocky paths. We often go astray. Yet, the experiences of our lives inevitably lead to changes in our deeds and our dreams, out of which we forge new paths. When we come home each year on the High Holy Days, our souls and our lives find renewal.
May our teshuva inspire us in the coming year to navigate the inevitable challenges life will bring. And may we, with perseverance, creativity and grace bring our souls home.
L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu!
Image: Thomas Hart Benton, Coming Home, 1934