There was once a great Hassidic master named Rabbi Zusya. As he neared the end of his life, a student asked him what he feared most about dying. “I am most afraid of what the angels will ask me as I stand before heaven’s gate,” he replied.
“What will the angels ask you?” the student implored.
“The angels will not ask me, ‘Zusya, why were you not Moses?’ The angels will ask me, ‘Zusya, why were you not Zusya?”
What does it mean to live one’s life authentically? What would it be like to live your life in accordance with your highest self? What would need to change in order to make this so?
We often have many layers covering our true authentic self. Layers are placed by societal values of acceptable and appropriate behavior, many of which are based on gender, race, class, and ability. Layers are placed by our families of origin, our cultures, and the various religious traditions that we come from about the right way to live our lives.
What would it be like to strip away these layers? Who would you find?
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe, were very powerful for me this year. For Tashlich, the ceremony traditionally practiced on the second afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, I went to special spot by a river in the woods to offer breadcrumbs to the flowing water. The breadcrumbs symbolically represented all of the sins, or all of the ways that I had missed the mark, in the past year. As I released the crumbs, these shortcomings were released, so that I could start the New Year fresh.
The original definition of to “sin” is to “miss the mark.” This definition speaks to me with gentleness, whereas the word “sin” causes immediate tension to arise in my chest and belly. To miss the mark is the very human act of not being perfect, of just missing the bull’s eye with our arrow, of not acting in accordance with our true nature.
We miss the mark in countless ways every day. Most of the time it is in small ways, not giving the whole truth, not being kind to ourselves, not being as compassionate towards others as we could be. Sometimes, though, we do miss the mark in big ways.
During the Days of Awe, we are instructed to look deeply at how we have acted towards ourselves, and others, in the past year. We are also instructed to offer forgiveness towards anyone who may have caused us harm in any way, and to seek forgiveness from others whom we have harmed in any way. This includes oneself.
Zusya often told his students, “Listen to the still, small voice inside you. Your neshamah [your soul] will tell you how you must live and what you must do.” Listen deeply to hear the voice of your authentic self.
May you have the courage to follow the words of wisdom spoken by your inner Truth. And in those moments when you find yourself not living in accordance with your highest self, those moments when you miss the mark of being truly authentic, may you have the grace to forgive yourself, let go, and start again.
Be gentle with yourselves on this journey towards authentically embodying your truest, highest, and deepest, most heart-centered Self. Then you can greet the angel of death with gladness, knowing that you lived your life well and to the best of your ability.
In closing, I will borrow Mary Oliver’s words to ask, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”