Like everyone, I have my faults. I spoke a bit of lashon hara last week. I squabbled with my husband because our overdraft is plumbing the depths of our bank account; and I skipped bentching on shabbos because it was just us for lunch and I couldn’t be bothered.
But ultimately, I believe that I am accountable for all of these ‘little’ things, and that on Yom Kippur, if I don’t properly hold myself to account, then G-d will do it for me in a myriad of wonderfully aggravating ways.
Yom Kippur Teshuva and Baal Teshuva Teshuva are similar inasmuch as they are both ultimately a search for truth, and an attempt to get past all the little lies and flattery we feed ourselves to see who we really are, and whether we are really living up to the covenant agreed by our forefathers.
But I find Yom Kippur Teshuva is harder. It’s harder because when you are a BT you get very used to swimming against the stream. Becoming a BT is a constant battle against the people who think you’ve turned into a religious fanatic, and the people who you think are giving religion a bad name by acting like a religious fanatics. You get used to it; perhaps a part of you even relishes the fight – because you are fighting for a just cause.
And when you know that pursuing the truth in the secular world is often a lonely calling, it doesn’t bother you so much to be doing it alone.
But come Yom Kippur, I’m aching to go to shul and to feel like part of a wider community, asking Hashem to have mercy on us as individuals, as a kehilla and here in Israel, as a country, too.
But it’s just so hard. It’s hard because in many shuls, even where everyone is outwardly observant, there is a palpably complacent sense that ‘G-d will understand’. And, ‘I’m really a good person’. G-d is educated, you see. He knows that we all have busy lives, and that we both need to work long hours in order to pay for the house and the two cars and the expensive High Holiday tableware.
He appreciates that after a long day at the office, we are too tired to visit a sick friend, take a meal to a newborn’s mother or watch our neighbour’s kid for a couple of hours.
But I often wonder if the value system that we judge ourselves by is the one that Hashem himself uses. Sure, we say vidui and we bash our chests, but how many of us actually take a moment to really internalize what we are saying? We do lie, steal and cheat. We do embarrass other people and act insensitively. We are selfish and lazy – and these things apply to pretty much anyone you’ll meet in any shul in the world. And let’s not even get started on the fraudsters and adulterers.
Yet most of us act as if the millions of things we do wrong a year are petty infractions that G-d will wink at come Yom Kippur.
I was recently at a shiur where we were discussing the power of prayer. One of the participants told us that she doesn’t believe it makes any difference, but she still does it as a form of therapy.
In our secret souls, I’m sure that many of us would agree with her. Yom Kippur is not so much about making amends to G-d, as much as about making ourselves feel better.
And that’s why I find Yom Kippur Teshuva harder than becoming a Baal Teshuva. Every year, I wish that my neighbours in shul and I were on the same page, and that we all honestly believed that we had done some serious sinning that we needed to atone for, and that our prayers really matter.
And every year, I realize that most of us are just going through the motions. I’ve realized that even in a shul full of observant people, the path towards truth is still one you often tread alone.
Originally published on Sep 27, 2006.