Like most American Jews, I spent the day in shul yesterday. I choose to take the concepts and rituals of Yom Kippur seriously and find that, more often than not, the synagogue is the best place for me to focus on the objectives at hand. (Plus it keeps me away from food!) Though the anachronistic, lengthy, and repetitive liturgy doesn’t hold my attention for very long, I do find comfort in being amongst “my peeps” and singing the familiar traditional tunes as I contemplate the year gone by.
Many people see Yom Kippur only as the Day of Atonement; the one day of the entire Jewish year that is set aside for the confession of one’s sins. For sure, the act of confessing is a way of forcing clarity; imposing verbalized acknowledgement of the “less than good” things that one has thought, said, or done in the past year. But it’s the commitment to turn things around – more like starting anew than repenting – that is the point of the day. Simply put, to me Teshuvah is the process of deciding to implement real change … genuinely attempting to become a better person despite one’s imperfections and propensity to sin.
By and large, I’m proud of the person I’ve become. I’ve worked hard – with honesty and integrity – on defining and clarifying what I do and do not believe. I sincerely do my best to walk-the-walk and not just talk-the-talk. I try to be a positive role model, treat others with respect, and offer a hug to anyone who needs one. I want to be part of solutions, not problems.
But, I sin too. And here’s where it gets tricky.
The sins I commit by accident – completely unintentionally – are the ones I feel bad about. If I inadvertently hurt someone or do something wrong, I feel genuine remorse and do whatever possible to correct the situation. There are sins, however, that I knowingly commit without guilt or shame. Some are minor; some not so. And these baffle me. After all, if I know I’m doing them, why not stop? I guess I have rationalized them because I know their root causes, risks, and accept the potential punishments. It is this latter category of transgressions that constantly reminds me of the utter illusiveness of perfection and I pray that my good deeds far outweigh the bad.
So, I’ve determined that, if I cannot be perfect, the least I can do is capitalize on my strengths – the things at which I excel – to bring more good to the world than bad. I can navigate pitfalls and roadblocks to make things better in my relationships, workplace, and community. I can assume volunteer or professional roles to facilitate new possibilities. And, with my children living their lives in other states, and no planned grandchildren on the horizon, I have a window of opportunity – an available span of time – that I must leverage for the greater good. It’s time to buckle down and do some really hard, life-changing work. It’s time to stand up and be counted!
Okay. It’s only one day after Yom Kippur. I’ll get on all this tomorrow.