We are right now at the finish line of the עשרת ימי תשובה – the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Each year, I look forward to the opportunity to pick a personal growth goal general enough to my work with students, teachers, parents, colleagues, community, etc. [Last year at this time, I blogged out my personal growth goals as well.] By doing this publicly, I hope, it will inspire others to think about how they wish to grow and provide me with a little public accountability to keep me honest.
Of course it feels a bit chutzphadik to name yet another growth goal, as if I have somehow achieved total success tackling my last two! (I can assure you that I have not – and if you reread the last two years’ posts, you’ll be able to see that for yourself!) And yet, despite my fits and starts and failures – and occasional successes – I do find value in this annual exercise and encourage you to share your own growth goals with whomever and in whatever ways you are comfortable. It feels good!
So this year, I am going take a more literal approach and actually focus in on how I would like to do better in the actual spiritual work of the High Holidays. I will be honest and say that my thinking here has been highly influenced by one of my rabbinical school courses which conveniently was about the liturgy for the High Holidays. I have been marinating in readings and conversation about what this time of year is truly supposed to be about and have been thinking deeply about how to incorporate a more traditional understanding of teshuvah and forgiveness into my personal practice.
Repentance contemplated, and not verbalized, is valueless. – Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
For this class, I read On Repentance in the Thought and Oral Discourses of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik by Pinchas H. Peli, published in 1980, and this was – for me – the money quote.
Soloveitchik goes into lots of detail and scriptural sources to prove the point, but to the degree that I use my time during Yammim Noraim to engage in repentance at all, I certainly do not put almost any energy into its verbalization. His idea here is that it is not sufficient to repent merely as part of an inner dialogue with either oneself or with God; that to make it real, it must have a physical manifestation – you have to say it out loud, or perhaps put it in writing, but you cannot truly do it without putting it into the universe. Now in the classic distinction between the sins one commits against one’s fellow-person, and the sins one commits against God (which I will discuss below), it is easier to imagine how this might work. I may not do it each year or with each person, but the idea that I would seek forgiveness from those I may have wronged automatically requires me to put thought into words. Ideally, I would seek out each person for a heart-to-heart conversation, but a letter or an email would at least put physical form to my repentance. That makes sense. But what about my wrongs that are not directed at other people?
I do not believe that I have ever tried to speak out loud or even put in writing my annual thoughts and feelings about repenting for the all the ways I fall short. At best, I try to use my time and my prayer to engage in an inner dialogue that is sometimes aimed towards God, but I am seriously contemplating adding this notion into my practice as I gear up for next season. I am not sure whether I would carve out time and space to vocalize or simply to write it out, but if doing so takes me one step farther in being the person I yearn to be rather than the normal, faltering half-steps I normally accomplish, I will have gained much more from this class than knowledge.
So during this time of introspection, let me take this opportunity to ask forgiveness for anything I have done – purposely or unknowingly – to cause offense or upset during the last year. I am sincerely sorry and ask for your forgiveness. As you ponder the purpose of this season for you and your family, I hope you find the time for introspection and the inspiration for the teshuvah you are seeking. From my family to yours, wishing you a tzom kal (easy fast) and a day of meaning.
G’mar chatimah tovah.
I am going to try really hard to blog out some thoughts, pictures and videos from our amazing COVID-friendly 4th Annual Middle School Retreat!