Weeks of awe

One young man said, “It’s good to have one day during the year when I stop and really think about what I have done.” One day...

By DAVID GEFFEN
September 5, 2019 09:56
4 minute read.
Weeks of awe

CHANGE, MY friends, takes time, energy, self-awareness, sensitivity to others and commitment.. (photo credit: TNS)

Students in an advanced adult Hebrew language class were discussing what the High HolidaysYamim Noraim – meant to them. One young man said, “It’s good to have one day during the year when I stop and really think about what I have done.”
One day...

Is one day enough? Perhaps sometimes. Perhaps for some people.

The noted philosopher Franz Rosenzweig was on the verge of converting to Christianity in early 20th century Germany. Then he attended Yom Kippur services. As a result of his experience, he did an about-face, and he immersed himself in Jewish piety, thought and learning.

But for most people, one day is not enough.

How often do you need to think about what you are doing and how hard do you need to think about changing an ingrained behavior? If I hurt you and then ask for forgiveness, and you forgive me, and then tomorrow I turn around and hurt you again, I have not improved at all.

Research on chemical brain activity is proving what was, in its spiritual essence, self-evident to our rabbis of old: we can, to be sure, learn new behavior but not just because we want to make a change. It takes real effort working hard at it to make a change.
If I hurt you and ask forgiveness, and you forgive me, I had better be prepared to work hard to ensure that I do not do the same thing to you again.

This is what forgiveness is truly about. We must change our brain connections so we can change our behavior.

How well do we know that changing ourselves takes hard work? It is very difficult – so difficult that we rarely do it unless we feel squeezed symbolically between the Red Sea and the chariots of Pharaoh.

Change, my friends, takes time, energy, self-awareness, sensitivity to others and commitment. There is also an element of faith involved. Faith that change is possible. Faith that we have the strength to change our viewpoint and habits. Faith that we have the strength to grow up a little bit more, no matter what our age might be.

THE SAGES knew what they were doing when they made sure what we would stop and think about our behavior at least one day a year. It would be a whole lot easier not to question our behavior, not to think how we have hurt someone, not to change. But what kind of individuals would we then be?

Our ancient sages were smart when they increased the period of introspection to 10 days, the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.

They also created a lead up with the month of Elul and the shofar blowing each day.

Because it can be so hard to see that we have done something hurtful, it takes a lot of digging within us to unearth what we have tried to bury – lost awareness of it. Truly we must stop, consider and ponder before we can start to get the picture.

After we have labored and after we have seen the dark side of ourselves, we must take the step to initiate change. Not easy by any means but somehow we must understand ourselves and “do it.”

Let us listen to that “still small voice,” the voice which tells us who we are. Can we be honest in this process readying for change?

Please tread tenderly, for understanding requires compassion. “If we break out in anger at what we find within, we will have taken a detour.”

Now for the next step. When we have compassion for ourselves – we must also have forgiveness for ourselves. True others will forgive us. But to enter the place where we are worthy of that forgiveness, we must forgive ourselves.

Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – are a time for family gatherings, prayer, fasting and more. Together, our own personal combination of rituals, customs and traditions – both ancient and modern – has the potential to transcend any single act of observance and to precipitate a change in our minds – in our brain chemistry – resulting in a real behavioral change.

Come with me – take a step in a new direction. Make the turn and as the gates of heaven close and the shofar sounds one last long tekia gedola blast – we will find ourselves with no choice but to continue in our new direction – you and I.

When we stride forward slowly but surely – every day of the new year we will strengthen our new behavior – we will have done teshuva – then we will grow closer to our true selves, closer to God every day in the year to come.


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