Being Change (A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah)
Claudia Serea's Angels & Beasts

A teaching from the Sfat Emet for Rosh Hashanah

This is my second-evening-of-Rosh-Hashanah offering, in lieu of a second-night sermon.

A teaching from the Hasidic rabbi known as the Sfat Emet. (Translation mine.)


"Inscribe us for life." [From the High Holiday Amidah: "Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, God of life."]

There is a holy spark in each person's heart. This is the soul, the breath of life. Our Torah blessing says that God "planted eternal life within us." This holy spark within us is what the blessing is referring to.

Over the course of each year, as we grow accustomed to sinning, the material self overpowers that holy point of holiness. Each of us needs to ask for compassion from the Holy Blessed One, so that God will renew the imprint within us at Rosh Hashanah. This is what we're asking when we ask "inscribe us for life."

The two tablets (Exodus) were also inscribed (engraved). Our sages creatively mis-read "engraved" as "set free" -- free from the angel of death and the evil impulse. Upon receiving the Torah, the children of Israel were ready for their engraving -- the words on the tablets and the imprint in their hearts -- never to be erased. But our misdeeds each year mess that up for us. Now each year we need to have that "for life" inscribed within us again.

When we speak of being "sealed" for a good year -- in the Ne'ilah prayers of Yom Kippur -- that's a reference to this holy spark within us, which needs to be "sealed" safely away, like a fountain in the garden of Eden.


Let me unpack and re-state that, because it's beautiful, and it's worth really grasping.

There is a holy spark inside each of us -- something living and eternal, planted there by God.

Each year, our poor choices, our misdeeds, our sins obscure that holy spark.

On this day, we ask God to inscribe us for life -- to uncover and re-awaken the holy spark, the divine imprint, inside us.

Accepting Torah, as our ancestors did at Sinai, frees us from our worst impulses. But when we sin, we lose sight of that.

Today we ask God to inscribe us for life. Not just to inscribe our names in some mythical book, but to inscribe us: to write "to life!" on our hearts.

Our job, says Rabbi Art Green, is to keep the inner tablets of our hearts "free enough from the accumulated grime caused by sin, guilt, the insanely fast pace at which we live, and all the rest," that we maintain the spaciousness to nurture our inner spark.

May we arouse and sustain the inner spark which calls us to holiness, to righteousness, to compassion.

May our prayer on this Rosh Hashanah sluice the grit and grime out of the imprint inscribed on our hearts.