September 24, 2018

Elul 11: Returning To My Canvas – Rabbi Elie Spitz

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that we should live our lives as if painting a work of art. When I first read this as a new rabbinical school student, I felt troubled. Before beginning my studies, I had wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I was aware that my compulsive self-endangerment and lies had caused enormous pain to those closest to me. Now, out of the hospital and on the slow path of healing, I felt like damaged goods. My artwork had smudges.

Years later, I read that infrared photographs of the Mona Lisa revealed that Leonardo da Vinci had repainted parts of his masterpiece. “Aha,” I thought, “we can repaint.”

Each relationship provides a canvas. Where we have failed our children or our life partners, we can repaint or fill in the canvas. Repair is often adding a bit more love, steadiness, or attention to make up for past conflict, neglect, or foolishness. Like a work of art, our relationships need the perspective of a full canvas, allowing us to appreciate the dark lines, drab patches, and the bright colors. These different moods and moments can be part of a coherent, attractive whole.

The meaning of the word teshuvah is “to return.” This is the season for teshuvah. We can re-envision, revise and augment the canvases of our lives. We can make them more whole, more holy, more evocative of an embracing smile with each act, with each stroke of color.

Elie Spitz is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, CA