On Monday night (September 29th), the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) will begin. Our count-up is to the year 5769; that would be the figurative anniversary of the creation of the world, or of humankind, or of God’s role in humankind’s world. But we Jews, on the whole, get it that we’re not talking “day” as in 24-hours and “year” as in 365 24-hour days. Still, it’s a new year, and it’s a time for some pretty serious thinking. If you could think of a New Year’s celebration that is the exact opposite of the American New Year, then this would be it.
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are what is called the Days of Repentance. During those ten days we are supposed to be introspective, considering our sins of the past year, and repenting for them before Yom Kippur when we will be or tfoo tfoo tfoo (that would be the Yiddish way of saying “God forbid” in a rather superstitious way) will not be inscribed in the “Book of Life.” (Yep, we Jews have books all over the place.) So what do I do, I get a head start, and begin the introspection days in advance.
It’s been a pretty trying year, 5768, one that presented more of the same rather than a change. Ironically, the man who I had, in part, married because he came from a traditional family and was raised on the morals and teachings of Judaism and the sages of the ages, continued to debase and demean the foundation from which he came. Which only made me realize that our own personality is a pretty powerful influence on what we become as adults; we do have the choice to become inspired and inspirational, or confrontational and arrogant. I guess that would be the internal struggle to become as Goliath or David.
I don’t want to dwell on him, except that I am supposed to be thinking of my sins of the past year, and thinking negative thoughts about a person could possibly be included in that category. But does it count as a sin, or a transgression (since I really hate the word "sin"), if the person deserves those thoughts? I guess I would have to think of those thoughts as bad in order to repent and I don’t; I think that he deserves everyone of those hateful thoughts that popped up in my head, and I deserve to think them, because if I hadn’t then I might have been sunk under the weight of self-doubt. And that would have been the bigger transgression: to let someone (continue to) overpower my mind and confidence. Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Leaving aside those thoughts, I ramble onto my relationships with my daughters, and my family, and my friends, and my colleagues, and my students. I mean, I didn’t shoot any caribou for which I need to repent and I tried to avert running over or stepping on sundry insects (well, except for mosquitoes and cockroaches) and I don’t recall cheating anyone out of their life savings or convincing someone that her ideas and emotions and thoughts are bad. No, but still, that does not mean that I have not said things that I do not regret.
Perhaps I have gossiped. Well, maybe not gossip exactly, but spoke with people about other people. But my philosophy (yes, I always have a philosophy to give credence to my ideas) is that being open is better than being closed. Besides, in no way did I impugn anyone’s morals, and it was generally only when I was a party involved that I allowed myself to engage in semi-public discussion. So, I probably made myself look as bad as anyone else.
But I do not intend to publicly recount my transgressions, but only to speak of the point that this annual review is an important break in the flow of life. It enables a pause in the pace of life, and it enables an annual before and after self-snapshot that I look forward to—that I depend on. It is a very serious time, with prayers and praying, and intense, critical introspection that is as intense as a visit to the dentist who probes every tooth and crevice. This opportunity to see if I have become a better person, or if I have lulled in stasis, is vital to me.
As the eve of Rosh Hashanah nears (all Jewish holidays begin at sundown), contemplation mode begins to settle in, and I begin to wonder about the past year, and the year to come. And I wonder, too, if I had to sit in judgment of myself (for aren’t I, really, supposed to be doing God’s work here?) would I find me lacking, and lacking in what? I guess all people who have a sense of humility (which I think would be a component of being a good person, which is the aim here, to be or become an even better good person) find themselves lacking in something. But I guess another question is: Is this the same thing that I found lacking in last year, and the year before. Am I still working on the same areas of self-improvement? Have I at least progressed somewhat?
While I know that patience is surely one of the things I need to work on, I need to contemplate if I have become less impatient and more patient. In the same way, I need to see if I have become less critical of others, setting them against my own standards as opposed to, perhaps, figuring out what their guideposts are and looking at those. And I need to figure out, too, where else I feel that I have transgressed.
And I really, really, need to think about how my home life is making me a worse mother than I could or should be. And I need to think about how I can prevent 5769 from becoming another year of stasis because that would be too wearying; wearying in a way that damages my psyche in such a way that in spite of all of the interior work I might try to do, it will be as naught.
Yes, there’s much to think about. It’s a good thing that I have ten days to devote to it.
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