High Holidays are around the corner... Can we Really Turn Over a New Leaf?

Thursday, 17 August, 2023 - 8:02 pm

As incredible as it may be, we have less than five weeks to the Jewish New Year and only six weeks to

Yom Kippur, the awesome day of Atonement.

In other words, in five weeks Jews all over the world will find themselves sitting in a synagogue beseeching their creator to bestow a happy and healthy new year, and a mere week later we will back in the pews repenting our misdeeds and imploring God not to bear a grudge.

Here is the strange thing about Jews and the High Holidays. Every year we ask God to forgive our sins by itemizing them in detail, and every year we come back and itemize them again, and every year we feel extremely confident that God has surely forgiven us again. I don’t know about you, but if someone hurt me once and asked my forgiveness, I would hopefully be quick to forgive. If the same person hurt me again with the same shenanigans, I would be less inclined to forgive. If then he hurt me again for a third time it would be extremely difficult and foolhardy for me to let go and forgive. I am sure that this is true of all of us.

Permit me to give you a scenario that actually happened. Someone asked me for a loan of money to be paid back within a few months. Sure enough, they reneged on their promise, and they defaulted. A couple of years later, this person approached me for another loan. I reminded them that the first loan was never repaid. They argued that it was a particularly rough situation, and they assured me that this would not reoccur. I “lent” them money again but this time I simply viewed it as a gift, as this is in tune with my philosophy that you can only get hurt if you have expectations. Sure enough my non expectation proved to be the right approach. Do you honestly think that I would be open to this person approaching me for another loan? If they had the audacity to approach me for a third time, I would simply tell them to go abuse someone else for a change. So, why do we think that we can abuse God year after year after year after year? The same infraction followed by the same repentance followed by the same infraction all over again. It makes us look like insincere pathological liars and cheats.

One of the responses offered is such a great lesson and should, in my opinion, be taught to children in schools globally.

God did not create us as angels who spend the day singing His praise and sipping lattes with an extended pinky finger while reclining on a balcony overlooking the heavenly island of Capri. Rather, he created mortal human beings with desires, needs, wants, and wishes. He created us with real life problems such as uninvolved parents, bad influences, and painful addictions. We have been planted into a world where there are so many varying confusing opinions as to what is right and what is not, what is morally acceptable and what is abhorrently unacceptable. It is all so confusing and leaves one exhausted. And while it is true that we are endowed with intellect and do have the power to reason and make good choices, we were also programmed on some level to make terrible choices as well. To add to this mess, we innately have conflicting emotions and traits to deal with. For example, while we want to be selfless, we also need to be selfish. It is our job to be able to rise above the noise and nonsense and discern what is the most honorable and noble path to take. He left discernment to us. Go figure!

Let’s face it. Every single human who has ever walked this earth has been by definition imperfect. Every single one of us has erred in some way, and most likely in many ways. Our greatest leaders have been proven to be fallible. Even Moses was fallible. We were created imperfect and we will live in an imperfect state as long as we draw breath. We will make multiple mistakes on any given day, week, month, or year.

However, none of the above makes us bad. In fact, quite the opposite. The fact that we have so many challenges and we still for the most part try and do the right thing makes us beautiful and good. There are very few of us who are actually bad and rotten to the core. Most of us try to get things right and attempt to do the right thing but are not always successful. There can be a myriad of reasons as to why we failed at doing the right thing. Sometimes the failure can be due to ignorance and/or willful blindness and perhaps laziness or even maybe due to lack of willpower. Any reason you share will most likely underscore the fact that it was most definitely not because you were a bad person, but rather a flawed one.

It is hard to forgive evil, wicked, malevolent, rotten, malicious, and spiteful people. Unless someone is evil, they would never advocate that the Nazis should be forgiven. No way. Hitler and the Nazis are unforgivable and so is Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The leaders of the Mongol Empire were evil and so were the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition. I would hope that God would not entertain forgiving them ever no matter how many Yom Kippurs come and go.

However, non-evil but flawed people like you and me are a completely different story. If we cannot get a break from the all-powerful, just, and omnipotent one, then we are all doomed to suffer in eternal purgatory because of our human failings. He did not create us as angels and therefore He has no expectations of us to be angelic. Our job is to be human with all its frailties and shortcomings.

It is for this reason we are able to approach God each year with remorse, regret, and a resolve to do better. We are telling God that we are human and fallible, and we need you to let it go and not build up resentment against us.

In conclusion, the Hebrew word for repentance is Teshuva. The word Teshuva when translated literally does not mean repentance but rather return. Now, Webster defines “repent” as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life,” “to feel regret or contrition,” or “to change one’s mind.” Think about it this way. Essentially repentance means to “turn,” while Teshuvah means to “return.” The lesson is crucial. To repent means that in the past I consciously decided to be one kind of person, and now, because I regret it, I want to become a new kind of person going forward. Return on the other hand means I’m returning to who I always was. I was never bad, just flawed. I was never rotten, just ignorant. I never meant to be selfish, I was just caught up in the moment.

We are not turning a new leaf. We are returning to our true selves filled with goodness and infinite potential to do great things.

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