Rosh Hashanah always sneaks up on me. Every year I tell myself that I’m going to engage in serious self-preparation for the holiday – take time granted me (the month of Elul) to reflect on my spiritual self, write lists of goals for the coming year, and engage in a sincere process of apology and forgiveness with my friends, family, and God. Nearly every year, I find myself in synagogue on Erev Rosh Hashanah, feeling slightly bewildered and attempting a crash course in tshuvah.
I think one of the main problems – aside from being busy – is that self reflection isn’t easy stuff. It’s emotional and complicated – and hopeful too, but one often has to go through a lot of processing before reaching that point. More than that, the thought of turning inward and repenting for everything all at once can seem so overwhelming.
So this year, I’ve decided to focus my tshuvah on one place – my kitchen. The word tshuvah is often translated as “repentance,” but it can also be thought of as returning to one’s best self. For me – and many other women (and men) – the kitchen and all it symbolizes is a gateway to many other parts of life (family, eating and overeating/under-eating, connection to the land, caring for others, care of myself, building community etc.)
In practice I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways I can “return to my best self” when it comes to food. I’ve been thinking about the places where I do not live up to my own desire to eat healthily and sustainably – the times when I choose to buy a slice of pizza because I forgot to pack a lunch the night before – the times I didn’t invite friends over for dinner, or purchased non-local produce from the supermarket because the farmers’ market was a longer bike ride away. I made dates with friends to start a weekly, rotational dinner co-op after the chagim (High Holidays) – not for Shabbat, just a time when one person commits to cook dinner for everyone else and we get together and enjoy each other’s company. It seems so simple – but enjoying the blessing of sharing meals with others is one of the things lacking most in my life.
On a very practical level, I finally purchased glass containers for all those spices and grains I buy in bulk and leave heaped in plastic bag piles in my cupboards. I also cleaned out my refrigerator, and acquired a few new cookbooks to inspire me in the coming year.
I still have a long way to go before the season of tshuvah is over, but I can’t help but feel that if I have my “kitchen” (broadly defined) in order, that the rest of me will be at least slightly more centered, grounded, and ready for the New Year.