Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Do you ever watch British TV? I am a fan, a huge fan, especially of the stories that disclose, in episodes that somehow minimize lapses of indeterminate periods of time, everything that has happened since we last took our places as voyeurs into the lives of total strangers. And best of all, they manage to reveal enormous life changes over the course of, say, three days in the lives of the characters. Brilliant! It’s so compact. So crystallized. And they make me wonder…. If I had a great cinematographer and editor filming my life, what would those crystallized glimpses of time have been? What would they reveal about my life, choices, growth and challenges?
Not that my life is like the adventurous Poldark’s, or the delicious dysfunction of “Last Tango in Halifax.” But still I wonder… what life-turning events will the next episode reveal? Would it be as riveting as the next “Sherlock”? Would it seem as good in the rerun as in the original screening? Okay, maybe not. But maybe it would still be worth watching,
We are about to engage in the emotional, memory-laden, future-seeking time-honored ritual of the annual rerun of our lives. We call it Cheshbon haNefesh – soul searching. Life review. A clearly distinct time set aside for us to look into our past actions and priorities and find there, in living color – just how we did meeting the goals we resolved to last year. What an incredibly powerful act of self-evaluation – and method of determination! A grand exercise of free will to become who we are meant to be!
When we see what did and did not work, we still have 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to dump the baggage. Ten measly days. For many, if not most, if not all of us, even honestly completing the assessment in 10 days is a pretty tall order. That is why the tradition encourages us to begin at the start of the month of Elul – for a full 30 days of reflection. In my experience, though, we all already have a good deal of self-knowledge. We know what we have done well, and where we have missed the mark. But now, we really have to look in the mirror.
Now all of this soul-searching can be pretty tough, and we can be very hard on ourselves. We can sometimes be devastatingly, or even paralyzingly hard. And it’s tough to make changes when we’re feeling so bad. We can even feel bad about feeling bad. As challenging as this might be, is it also exciting that this is one of those crystallized moments that reveal what is to come. A little microcosm of life decisions on one side, and a clean slate on the other. A clean slate can be a little intimidating – but it is also FREEING! As long as we feel good enough about themselves to go for it.
So I propose that if we want to make real, life-affirming change for the better, it will help to begin with a peaceful assessment of the good inside of us. The things we do right. The ones that we feel help us resonate in harmony with the Creator, with one another, and our own souls. The aspects of our lives we can build on. Then, maybe jump-in-feet-first people can feel the strength to begin right now and write a bold new episode. And step-by-step people can appreciate their measured advances toward growth. Either way, we can create epic life stories and appreciate every turning point, every flashback, and every opportunity to start a new chapter that will be glorious, and fascinating and … our own.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.
Pronounced: yohm KIPP-er, also yohm kee-PORE, Origin: Hebrew, The Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and, with Rosh Hashanah, one of the High Holidays.