As many of you know, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah begins tonight at sundown, so as I write these words, some of our readers are already celebrating the holiday.
Every year, as the Jewish High Holy Days approach, I seek to engage in T’shuvah, the word literally means return (as if we return to the right path), where I examine my deeds in the past year and try to improve upon them for the year upcoming. To facilitate this process, I try to read S.Y. Agnon’s Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days.
I have no clue how many times I’ve read this book since I first discovered it eighteen years ago. I find when I read it, it spurs me to reflection and helps me prepare for the Holy Days and the New Year.
This year, I pulled the book down from my shelves in the now-ending Hebrew month of Ellul, a month when, to paraphrase something I wrote two years ago at this time, we reflect, looking back on the previous year, considering our faults and resolve to improve ourselves. I didn’t get to it until just a few days ago.
I hesitated picking it up, fearing it would too much of a chore to get through, as I wanted to read the whole book over the Yamin Noraim, these Days of Awe, when we turn our thoughts to our Maker and our own improvement.
Once I started reading, however, it was not as much a chore as I initially feared. I found myself coming alive as I read, awakened to both the traditions of my people and the circumstances of my life, circumstances which helped explain (but not excuse) my own faults.Â I realized (yet again) I was not the first to stray, not the first to take good things for granted.
I began to understand what it meant to be “humble and contrite.” Humble, that I am human and weak, not always able to live up to my duties and ideals. I’m not so proud to believe that I can always be perfect. Contrite, in that I take responsibility for my failures (even when I understand them) and seek to do better new year.
But, the real lesson I gleaned from this whole experience. While we may feel it is painful to consider our own imperfections, sometimes when we do, we discover the pain is lessened when we can see a path to improving upon them and find within ourselves the resolve to take the first step.
I’ve engaged in this process before. So, I ask another question: why do we hesitate sometimes to do those things which help us improve ourselves spiritually? And make us feel more engaged with our lives. And more alive.
May you, our readers, be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year.