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by Sherri Mandell

9/30/2005 -- Five years ago, when I moved into my house in Tekoah, there was a hard, green, high-backed chair with spindly legs left in the house by the landlady. It wasn’t very comfortable, so I moved it outside and put it in the garden.

The day of Rosh HaShanah I came home early; I didn’t feel like being in shul all day. I fell asleep and there was a knock on the door. It was a woman I didn’t know. She was young with curly black hair and had three children with her, all under the age of 6. Her name was Tanya and she said, “ I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m new here, and could you tell me where you got that chair?” Her accent was definitely South African.

I said, “It was left here by the landlady.”

She said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I think that’s my chair.”

Then she told me all about the chair, how she had had it in her dining room when she was very young and living with her family in South Africa. They made aliyah in 1977 and the chair accompanied them. Tanya had painted it and put it in her room. Then they moved back to South Africa, her mother died from breast cancer and now Tanya was back in Israel and, well, it looked like her chair.

We walked outside. She picked it up and turned over the chair. She said, “You see, it was once pink and now it’s green. I painted it green when I put it in my room.”

She looked at it. She sat on it.

“This chair has a lot of memories for me,” Tanya said.

“Well, I guess you can have it,” I said.

“I’ll come back for it after Rosh HaShanah,” she said. She did.

Sometimes ownership is more a matter of love than possession.

It seemed like a strange thing to happen on Rosh HaShanah. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Rosh HaShanah was essentially about returning things to their places, to their source. Tanya was the rightful owner of that chair. Just as she would never hurt the chair because it connected her to her mother and her childhood and her childhood home — even if she were going to change the color of the chair and strip it down, she would do so lovingly — so God, too, when he judges us, does so with love in His heart because he wants us to find our true place in the world. A place that is closer to our source.

This chair was so welcome to Tanya because it told her that if even if she had moved across oceans, even if her mother had died, she still had part of her home anchored here.

God is our home and he pulls us closer to him, but we resist. It’s hard to recognize him as our home when we have such lovely decorated rooms with carpeting and plush couches.

But we are all part of the process of finding our way home to God, to the Jewish people, to Israel. God is calling us all home. That is the sound of the shofar, the sound of brokenness. It is when we are broken that we need God and recognize God as our true home. For me, after my 13-year-old son Koby was murdered four years ago, the world didn’t draw me in the same way it once did. The world was no longer so comfortable. I need a bigger world, one that includes Koby and God.

God is in this world but He is not the world. He is bigger than the world.

Rosh HaShanah is all about returning things to their sources, returning ourselves to a deeper purity. God is our ultimate address, our real owner, the seat of our being. Rosh HaShanah is a time to see underneath the layers of personality we paint on ourselves to find the true divine essence of ourselves. It is a time for our personalities, our quotidian selves, to be quiet so that our soul can speak. n

Sherri Mandell, author of “The Blessings Of A Broken Heart,” is the director of the Koby Mandell Foundation Women’s Healing Retreat for Bereaved Mothers and Widows.

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