As is traditional, late last night (Saturday, September 8th), a small group of us gathered to study and pray together in observance of Selichot (the first, official, repentance ritual of the High Holy Day season). I love Selichot. While there is something awesome about the grandeur and pageantry of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, Selichot offers a quieter, more intimate opportunity to begin the spiritual work of reflection, repentance and renewal that is our central goal during these Days of Awe. For the first time this year, we sing and listen to the beautiful, stirring melodies that will accompany our journeys back to who we meant to be, the people we will try, once more, to become. The music moves me and helps me to get spiritually focused more quickly and powerfully than words alone could ever manage.
Before the service, we spent an hour studying texts that were drawn, primarily, from a wonderful book about repentance by Dr. Louis E. Newman. I also gave folks an adapted version of a journal created by Michelle Shapiro Abraham* to help them move through the process of teshuvah (repentance). The journal entry for today started with a quote from Rav Kook (that I first learned in Dr. Newman’s book): “One of the foundations of penitence, in human thought, is a person’s recognition of reponsibility for his actions, which derives from a belief in man’s free will. This is also the substance of the confession that is part of the commandment of penitence, in which the person acknowledges that no other cause is to be blamed for his misdeed and its consequences but he himself.”**
Following Rav Kook’s teaching, I offered the following prompt: ‘As I begin the process of doing teshuvah this year, I acknowledge my tendency to make excuses for my own misdeeds. Too often, I have unconsciously blamed my wrong words or actions on others or on circumstances. To begin accepting responsibility, I need to “catch myself in the act” and reflect on the excuses I often use, almost unconsciously, to let myself off the hook.’
For my part, as I wrote, I identified a rationalization I often use to avoid things I should do but am anxious about doing. I tell myself that I’m just too busy and the demands of my work are too intense; I obviously don’t have the time to do whatever it is I’m avoiding. In other words, I blame my job. It’s because of my job that I can’t become the person I meant to be. That’s one of the “dodges” I need to acknowledge and work on as I prepare to return to my better self. What are some of yours?
A healthy, fulfilling, joyous and peaceful 5773 to you, to those you cherish and to all creation!
*You can find Michelle’s original journal in the URJ publication, “Reaching for Holiness.” If you’re a member of BETC and you’d like a copy of my revised version, just stop by the synagogue and ask me for one.
**Quoted in Repentance: The Meaning & Practice of Teshuvah , Dr. Louis E. Newman (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010), pg. 83.