Shabbat Greetings

In his famous song, “My Way,” Frank Sinatra shares:

And now the end is here; And so I face that final curtain, my friend I’ll make it clear.
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain; I’ve lived a life that’s full. I traveled each and every highway, and more, much more. I did it, I did it my way.

It’s not Unetaneh Tokef, but it kind of feels that way.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention. I did what I had to do;
I saw it through without exemption, I planned each charted course, Each careful step along the byway, And more, much, much more – I did it, I did it my way

Yes, there were times I’m sure you knew when I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.

This has been a favorite of many of us and I have played this many times at funerals and memorial services. It is an incredibly powerful memory, and one of which I have no regrets. On this final Shabbat of the year 5783, we are hopeful that we are not facing the final curtain.  But, we are looking back at the fullness of our lives in the year that is drawing to a close and how we have persevered even when we “bit off more than we could chew.”

Regrets?  I have a few.  Do you?  Don’t we all? A recent study suggested that a whopping 99% of us “at least occasionally look back on our lives and wish we had done things differently,” and 43% of us do so routinely (The Upside of Regret by Daniel Pink).  Regrets are a critical part of our High Holy Days experiences, and, ideally, an opportunity to grow and to chart new courses in the year ahead.  As long as we don’t get TOO bogged down so that we are overcome by depression and inaction, by guilt, blame, shame and judgment.

Daniel Pink writes that regret, perhaps surprisingly, actually has some upsides!  First of all, if we regret doing something, it can inspire us to handle similar situations differently the next time we approach them.  Is there a mistake you made in 5783 that you want to remember NOT to do in 5784?

Regrets inspire us to make different choices.  Do you regret not learning to play an instrument?  Not being as attentive to maintaining relationships?  Not taking care of your body the way you’d like to?  Whatever the regret, the new year reminds us that we CAN change.  The Hebrew root shuv, to return, appears no less than 7 times in this week’s Torah double portion, Nitzavim-Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30).  Teshuvah, returning to who we really are and who we really want to be, is the theme of the High Holy Days.  Regret is the fuel of teshuvah.

Through regret, we can repair that which is broken.  When all else fails, Pink continues, we can search for the “silver lining,”  Did any good, did some good, come out of the situation we now regret?  Is there anything about which we can look back and say, “Well, at least. . . “.  Through regret, we can come to a place of forgiving ourselves for mistakes we’ve made, recognizing our common humanity as we note our wrongdoing.

The humorist Erma Bombeck had her own idea – “If I had my life to live over…
Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.
My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.
If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”

When we hear this wisdom, we notice what little emphasis there is on acquiring material things and how much the focus is on enjoying every possible moment.  Our portion reminds us that, “See, I set before you this day life and good, death and evil” (30:15). And to reinforce the message: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse” (30:19).  Life is a blessing.  Choose life, the Torah urges us – with all of its difficulties and challenges and regrets.