Wednesday, October 08, 2008

If I Have Been Unkind

If I've wronged anyone reading this, in word or deed, by action or by neglect, I hope that you will forgive me.

As someone said to me recently, good luck with the book and with the seal and everything.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Coming Back to You

You may be wondering where I've been. Or maybe you're used to this already. In any case, it's aseret yemei teshuvah, so I'll just jump right into the hard stuff.

A friend of mine wanted to talk about teshuvah recently. It bothered her, she said, that the people who spend the most time in shul beating their breasts and feeling guilty are the ones who need to do it the least. I agreed. That’s why I always feel so crappy this time of year, I told her. All these Jews who are so much more pious than me are waking up early to pray and repent, and here I am just going about my life, barely doing anything at all.

That wasn’t what she meant, though. She was thinking of all the Jews who would be eating ham sandwiches on Yom Kippur, and wondering why she had to deal with all this guilt, when in the general scheme of things, she’s a pretty decent Jew.

After she left, I admitted to DH that I see things pretty much the same way. I know we're not perfect -- me, DH, my friends -- but I really don't think we're bad people. I always find myself thinking this during the high holidays, as I mumble my way through all that self-deprecating liturgy: Overall, I'm really a pretty decent human being.

“Then why do you always get so depressed?” he asked.

Depressed is probably too strong a word, but it’s true: I do get moody around the High Holidays. What I feel crappy about, I tried to explain, is that I don’t feel crappy enough. With all those hours of prayer designed to induce guilt and remorse, you can’t help feeling remorseful if you don’t feel remorseful.

The problem is that I just haven’t figured out where I stand vis-à-vis halakhah and morality. I think I understand how this process ought to work for a very pious Jew: He or she might, for example, be overcome with guilt for missing the proper time for prayer on various occasions over the past year. The road to teshuvah would be clear: confess, pray for forgiveness, and make a concerted effort not to oversleep any more. On the other end of the spectrum, if someone were, say, involved in an adulterous relationship, she might be likewise overcome with guilt (or at least, she ought to be). And the proper path would be equally clear (if somewhat more difficult): Repent, break off the relationship, and so forth. But what about me? There are lots of things I could do if I wanted to be “frummer.” I could keep kosher more strictly, for example. But that would interfere with my relationships with various family members and non-Jews, and even if halakhah does warrant that, I’m not convinced that it’s the right thing to do. On the interpersonal level, I could try to be kinder and more generous, but I’m not sure that’s the right thing for me to do either. It so often seems to result in my making promises that I don’t keep, in abandoning people who don’t need me, and in resentment on all sides.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s nothing clear for me to work on. Keeping commitments I’ve already made is an obvious one. I could also be more attentive to my loved ones and try to “be there” for them, even if I can’t always meet all their needs. But that’s hardly enough to keep me occupied for five weeks of breast-beating including a twenty-five hour fast.

So that’s where I am.