Shabbat Shuvah is upon us – this once a year Shabbat moment during these ten days of repentance. This is the moment when we immerse ourselves in deep reflection, examining how we can become the best selves we aspire to be. As we think about the mistakes we’ve made, the ways we’ve veered off course, I think about the viddui, the confession of sin, which will be such a central focus of our Yom Kippur experience. We say the viddui SO many times on Yom Kippur. I don’t even know the exact number, but it’s a lot. And each time, we beat on our chests, reciting our communal wrongdoing literally from a-z.
It’s important that we look within and take responsibility for the times we were not at our best. In many ways, this is the essence of the high holiday season. And yet, I wonder exactly how much we need to beat ourselves up. How bad are we required to feel, and is there not, perhaps, a mitzvah of forgiving ourselves as we forgive others? The Talmud in the tractate dealing with Rosh HaShanah suggests as much – that we will be forgiven in equal measure to how much we forgive others. As we treat others with kindness and compassion, perhaps we can extend that same sense of tenderness to our own hurt. Can we be as sensitive and caring friends to ourselves as we are to others? Is it possible that we are harder on ourselves than we need to be?
I believe that, for the most part, we don’t need to call their flaws to the attention of other people. Typically, other folks are perfectly capable of feeling bad all by themselves. Sometimes I think that we are harder on ourselves than we need to be. And this beating our chests only reinforces the blame, shame, and judgment game.
This week’s portion, Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52) is remarkable in two respects: what it says, and how it chooses to say it. Moses’s makes his final address to the Children of Israel before a set of farewell blessings. In doing so, he reviews all of his people’s past, present, and future. He begins by calling on the God who had called Israel into being and called him to God’s service. He reminds Israel that God has chosen them and still cares for their well-being. He prophesies that despite all that God and Moses have said and done, Israel will abandon God, as they had in the past. God will punish them, as in the past, but never to the point of utter destruction. In the end, God and Israel will reconcile. Why, Moses pleads, can you not understand the simple truth that Adonai alone is God, Adonai and no other? If you accept that truth and act accordingly, God will save you from your enemies—and if not, not. Remember these words, he concludes, for they are your very life and the length of your days—whereupon, rather peremptorily, God tell Moses that his days are over. The time for his words is done. Moses must join the forebears who speak no more (32:46-50).
I don’t know what mistakes you’ve made in the past, but on this season of repentance, I would suggest that you did the best you could with what you had at the time. If you find yourself living with regret, try to catch it and see what’s moving. Did things mostly turn out all right? If so, be grateful! If there anything funny about it? If so, laugh! Have you learned anything new since then? If so, enjoy what you now know and express it however you can! Do whatever you can to let your regret go – forgive yourself and, if necessary, ask for forgiveness from others – so you can move on with your life. (Inspired by Well Lived Life by Dr. Gladys McGarey)
Now, of course you will argue that there is very much in life that matters and we can’t just dismiss it all! Yet, we are encouraged to let go of things that don’t serve us well, and to use this experience to release whatever it is that is holding us back from moving in the direction we wish to travel.
At some point – it doesn’t matter, let it go, with the resolve that life is an ongoing learning process and the prayer that the year ahead will be one of spiritual growth, self-improvement, and, yes, compassion for our own imperfect selves.