Religion & Beliefs

All I Wish I Could Say In A Sentence When Asked To Do So

Though most people seem to refer to December as the time of year when we see differences with our non-Jewish friends/partners/coworkers/whatever the most, I tend to feel more… more what?… more protective about the High Holidays. I think I mean … Read More

By / September 10, 2007

Though most people seem to refer to December as the time of year when we see differences with our non-Jewish friends/partners/coworkers/whatever the most, I tend to feel more… more what?… more protective about the High Holidays. I think I mean that I feel more often misunderstood over the Days of Awe than I do about Chanukah. Or any other holiday, for that matter. Maybe it’s because Chanukah seems more straightforward, or maybe because most people are celebrating some kind of holiday around the same time and we’re all busy doing our own celebratory things to notice what anyone else is doing. A woman I know last week said to me, “Oh, Happy Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur! Your big holidays! I hope g-d forgives you!” (Wish I could claim to be making that up.) Anyhow, the feelings of protectiveness came flooding back to me, same as last year. And the year before that… It’s hard to make people understand the Jewish definition of repentance and forgiveness and atonement sometimes, don’t you think? It’s hard to explain that it isn’t a holiday of groveling and confessing and forgetting about it. It’s not so much about out there but more about in here. If asked, and, oy, only if asked, I usually start by explaining daven means self-judgment, not begging or anything like it. I stand up, just as I am, with my community and within the universe and all it stems from and judge myself during the Days of Awe. I look at how I handled the past year, where I could do more, where I could do better, what works, what doesn't, where I should try something else. We don’t beg the universe to forgive us, we stand within the whole mess and ask each other for forgiveness where we’ve dropped the ball.

A friend of mine said once that, “Jews are unique that the new year isn't about obliterating the past, but turning towards the future, making amends, changing” that just seemed perfect to me. Kind of the extended remix of that comes from a nice tidbit on Ritual Well about Rosh HaShanah that reads: “Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year. While the secular new year is often celebrated by forgetting – we tear up the calendar, get drunk, and attempt to wipe the slate clean – the Jewish New Year is about remembering. The shofar, the ram's horn, wakes us from our stupor and demands that we face ourselves and our wrongdoings. The liturgy of the holiday stresses that life is short, our days our numbered, and our chance to change, do good, repent, accomplish the things we dream of, and treat the people we love as they deserve to be treated, is now.” And, speaking of deservedness, I think it’s worth mentioning/reminding that it’s not lame in the least to think about the micro, too. How well we treat ourselves, ways we’re hard on ourselves, how we stand up for ourselves, how we maintain friendships that nourish us (or not), are all things worth considering around this time, as is deciding whether or not to make changes to address the issues. Deciding, thinking, considering. Because, let us not forget, the Hebrew word that usually gets translated as sin (chet) isn’t sin like doing “wrong” or “bad” but in missing the target. It’s a mistake. A goof. A lack of focus, or preparation, or skill or whatever that made us drop the ball. A thing we can decide to correct, or not. Teshuva is about figuring out where we messed up, or need to improve, then we doing the inner-work, taking the necessary steps to try to further occurrences.

An explanation I really like of teshuva, comes from an archived post written by The Velveteen Rabbi: “Teshuvah is a process of cleaning. Imagine a windowpane which hasn't been washed in a year. It's dusty; it's dirty; it's grimy. Maybe it's festooned with cobwebs. Maybe it's muddied. Though the sun may be shining outside that window, light won't penetrate until the glass has been made clear. ..we can't see… until we take the time to clear away what's clouding our vision.” In the end, it’s a lot to try to explain to someone, especially, when we are ourselves focused on doing this around the time we’re most often asked, but perhaps the universal bear-in-mind that most anyone would understand (and perhaps even agree with!) also comes from Ritual Well, reminding us of how valuable each action is, of turning, striving, listening and sitting still: “…and in fact each of us contains worlds. Through each of us, the world will be renewed…”

I think there are a lot of universal themes, very human themes, floating around Rosh HaShanah, and maybe that's where my wonkiness stems from– that one of the most universal-feeling holidays, to me, seems like one of the most often misunderstood from the outside looking in. So, perhaps the best way to explain is to do. To let our clean windowpanes be an example.