On Writerly Spirituality: Yom Kippur Edition

THIS DAY IS STEEPED IN regret — and resolve.

Yom Kippur is not as joyful as Pesach or Shavuot, which respectively mark the exodus from Egypt and embrace of the Torah[1], but it’s a day which carries its own spiritual riches. It is both comforting and discomforting to take stock of one’s last-year deeds, deciding what to build on and what to discard; call it one soul-bending enrichment experience.

One of the things I aim for every year is detachment from egotism; i.e., getting out of my own way. A touch of egotism isn’t necessarily bad — as Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” — but as a writer in search of an audience, I sometimes find it too intoxicating. I begin the year with good and humble intentions, but somewhere along the way I also begin to judge my grasp-of-craft by how many Facebook “likes” and access-log entries I acquire. That often leads to self-annoyance or -embarrassment, with an attendant degree of shame. A good mantra against such ills is Stephen King’s advice to write for the act of writing itself; not for accolades, not for fame or posterity or recognition. In short: “Do it for the buzz.”

Which brings us back to Yom Kippur. For all its solemnity, Yom Kippur also offers the quiet joy of an annual time alone with one’s better nature. All the day’s factors (including the structured interminability of the prayer service as well as knowing that we’re each of us engaging in self-analysis on this Day of Days) conspire to put me in the same place that deep writing does: an egoless, feeling-the-words-go-by calm. And a resolve, for at least this coming year, to keep that buzz going.

[1] The Hebrew word “Torah” is often mistranslated as “Law.” A better and more literal rendering would be “Instruction” or “Teaching.” See here for why that distinction is important.

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