SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 – Do you think you are a bad person? When you go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and you read the long list of sins that all of us atone for, do you give up on yourself? “Wow. I really stink,” you say to yourself. “I’m a pretty hopeless case – so who cares? Let’s just have a good time!”
Or, do you think you’re good, and that the world has dealt you a crummy lot in life; that your angry, self-sabotaging, vindictive, or passive-aggressive behaviors are not your fault? Do you even see those character defects within yourself, or have you justified them out of your purview? Do you say to yourself, “Hey, I wasn’t so nice, but look who I was dealing with!”
My friends, there is a middle ground between self-hatred and denial. It’s in this middle ground that the transformative potential of Rosh Hashanah exists. If you want to harness the full power of Rosh Hashanah, be honest with yourself. It’s very simple. Search yourself fearlessly and honestly, and you’re on the road to living a soulful life in harmony with the world and your Creator.
How can you do that? When you’re in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, breathe. Literally stand there and breathe. Why? Breath is a connection to the soul. Breath is a celebration of the creation of man. It connects you to the creation of the first man, Adam, who G-d breathed life into. That primordial and Divine breath exists today in every breath you take. Breath is a gateway to listening to the still, small voice of your soul. That still small voice is the voice of honesty.
Most people have a running narrative about themselves. But, often, the narratives are inaccurate. The narrative could be voices of our parents (who are human and therefore imperfect and subjective, and maybe even unkind); it may be the narrative of our peers, or our culture. But it may not be your voice. Have you discovered your own voice? If not, be still and listen for it.
On Rosh Hashanah, sit with both your wisdom and your neuroses. They aren’t bad, and they aren’t good – they are human. They neither need your justification nor your condemnation. In fact, condemning or justifying them prevents you from changing. See them for what they are – part of the human condition.
By replacing the hostility that you direct either to yourself or toward a world that you feel has treated you unfairly, you will suddenly open up to a space that allows for an honest curiosity about yourself. You’ll see your gifts and talents, and you’ll see the dark places that need improvement. In that space, your Rosh Hashanah will be one of repentance in the deepest way.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker is the spiritual leader of Chabad of the North Shore.