By Rabbi Betsy Forester
Every year at this time, we examine how we lived over the past year and bring to mind where we fell short of our best intentions--where we missed the mark. The High Holy Days offer an opportunity to unpack those experiences and seek their source. Why did we do what we did, or say what we said? Why did we refrain from doing more, or better, when we could have?
The work of this season has been compared to an excavation project in which we tear down an entire building in order to clear away the rot at its foundations and reconstruct it on a solid moral base. According to that model, we must change who we are and become, essentially, different people--people who could not possibly make the same mistakes we made before. To me, that feels like an impossible project and a fundamentally unhealthy one.
I suggest that we enter this season with a great deal of compassion toward ourselves and others. It has been an incredibly difficult year, and as hard as we tried, we simply could not always live out our highest values, such as visiting the sick, comforting mourners, rejoicing with brides and grooms, welcoming guests, and so much more. We have learned much about ourselves from the challenges we faced, and with God’s help, we will continue to learn how to make our good intentions more manifest in our words and deeds. We will improve our characters more readily by remembering that our intentions were good, at least most of the time.
The Torah teaches that when we do not know what is the right path forward, we do not give up. We can figure out what to do as long as we remember that Torah has been given not only to us, but within us:
“It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
In many ways, we really did deconstruct our ways of doing things in the world over the past year. But fundamentally, we did not lose our sacred ways of being in the world. Our intentions got bruised, and we could not always deliver, but at the core, our values kept us connected to one another and to Torah even in the challenging circumstances we faced.
We are still living through intensely challenging times. We know that we were not perfect in the past year. We never will be perfect. Let us resolve to help one another use what we have learned about ourselves for good in the coming year. With compassion for one another, and with God’s help, “we’ve got this.”
L’shanah tovah tikateivu, and all good wishes for a sweet new year from the entire Beth Israel Center family
Rabbi Betsy Forester joined Beth Israel Center as their spiritual leader in 2018. She is a master teacher and religious leader skilled at helping people build meaningful lives through transformative Jewish experiences rich in authenticity, depth, empowerment, intellectual rigor, sacredness, and joy.