Do you know anyone who relates to the idea of repentance with joy and happiness? Looking forward to that sore tuchas from sitting so long in synagogue? Can there be trepidation for the Day of Judgment and awe for the Day of Atonement and also an uplifted positive spirit? You bet your sore tuchas.
It’s all a matter of focus. When you are doing teshuva, repentance before the High Holy Days, every effort you make is rewarded. You are placed in a win/win situation. If you are able to better yourself in anyway, you will reap infinite rewards in this world and the next. When a law student is up for the Bar Exam it is either pass or fail. There is no credit given for the years of law school or the late nights preparing. You are either confirmed a lawyer or not. One gentleman in Los Angeles worked as a law clerk for 24 years taking the exam twice a year and failing each time until finally he was able to pass. Of course, you have to admire his persistence. But in the physical world, there is no real reward for preparing for the Bar Exam. In the spiritual world it is the opposite. You can feel joy every time you make the smallest effort on behalf of your soul.
The word “repentance” brings up concepts of Heaven and Hell, reward and punishment, which makes many people uncomfortable. If you are one of these people, you need to change the words. Don’t think about repenting; think about spiritual growth. You can use any words you want – “I’m giving myself a mental floss.” Or “I’m getting a moral upgrade with more speed and more memory.” Does it really matter what words you use? The main thing is to do something, anything to effect a better person.
When you think about it, each one of us is like a sculpture. We are created as raw material and our job in this life is to mold, shape, sculpt a more perfect you. Hopefully, every new year you are a tiny bit wiser and have the ability to look over all of your values and principles. Make a list of your goals. Ask yourself if you want to have more or better friends. Ask yourself if any one of your close relationships could be better. Work on controlling anger. Work on being more forgiving. Work on being less materialistic. Whatever you want. This is the time period that is ripe for introspection and self-growth. Now is the time that the spiritual world opens up to aid you in your quest to be a better person.
Any accomplishment in the physical world can only cause temporary joy. If you win a bowling trophy it only gives you joy to take it out and impress someone who hasn’t seen it yet. The experience of winning a game is momentary. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year. This year nobody really cares. It’s a new season; a new team. Now is the time to focus on spirituality. Ask yourself if by next year you want to be on a higher level of spirituality. Do you want to be less petty? Do you want to have more respect for yourself? Do you want to know how to love more?
In the time leading up to the holidays the joy is not only in the accomplishment of achieving growth in an area you want to grow in, the joy is in knowing that you have a spiritual benefit in just trying. Make a small effort, and be happy to be connected to spirituality and your Jewish roots.
Originally Published on Sept 7, 2007