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.

9 comments:

Orin said...

Good to know I'm not the only person with those kinds of considerations!

Janet said...

Ditto! Thanks for sharing.

David Reuveni said...

Father David offers dispensation:

Ten Hail Meyrlys (telephonically, of course) and ten Our Fathers who art in Manhattans and all is forgiven.

Harry Lesser said...

First, teshuvah is essentially seeing that one has done something wrong and not doing it again. There is absolutely no obligation to feel crappy--this is just sentimentality--the obligation is to improve oneself.
Secondly, even those of us who are pretty decent people,with perhaps a very few honorable exceptions, are, if we are honest, still a long way below what we should be, and even what we could be without a great effort. Even though Al het has 44 headings, most of us will have done something (hopefully a fairly mild something) under most of those headings--eg, we all gossip in harmful ways.
Thirdly, though the proper mood on Yom Kippur is not misery but a confidence that we will be forgiven, we do need to remember that this is because God is merciful, and not because we are so specially virtuous!
Chatimah tovah!

js said...

I hear you. Growing up, my dad always used to joke that he didn't have time to commit all of the sins that were listed in the praterbook. (He also said that this was something that his mother used to say to him!) I know that I have my own individual faults to admit to, but I also like the idea that we are holding ourselves responsible as a collective for the ways in which we can be better _as a community_ (however that may be defined).

fleurdelis28 said...

For some reason I'm only just seeing this now, but this sums up pretty well my own thoughts this year. I spent a certain amount regretting that this wasn't one of the years that I had goofed up on something major that I could hang my repentance on. I ended up falling back a lot on the collective language of the 'al cheits', and the fact that we as a community and society have a lot to fix whether or not I've been personally responsible for any of it. But it's weird -- the point of Yom Kippur is to repent for what you've done, not to feel horribly guilty, but it really does feel like you've missed the point, and the resulting catharsis, if you haven't found something to feel horribly guilty about.

Last year in the Israel bookstore, while searching for a machzor to send to a Protestant friend in New Zealand, I came across a Syrian (I think) machzor with a very different and very specific set of al cheits -- 'we have talked during the chazarat ha'shatz,' etc. This year I found myself wishing at times that we had something like that, though while it does provide more guidance for one's thoughts, it doesn't address at all the question of halachah versus morality and how guilty you ought to feel about talking in shul when you've been pretty good in your treatment of your fellow man.

Erica said...

My focus on self-examination during the High Holidays has taken a nose dive since I went into the field of social work. I figure, I think about who I am and try to be a better person all the time (ie, even more frequently than I did before I became a social worker), and I can't quite work up the mental steam for a big fit of grief and brest-beating. I do try to pay attention which actually praying, and I try to think a little about what I need to change.

This year, I decided that the realm of self-doubt was probably the most worrying sin.

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Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

Anybody that thinks Comparative religion is on its way soon better watch out for the Talmudic strain of Jew. These are not Mosaic people who live by faith....they live by a manufactured version and they are the most dangerous on the planet. Not to be confused with humble Jews at all: their manifesto
Maimonides Mishnah Torah, in Chapter 10 of the English Translation, states concerning Jesus Christ:


"It is a mitzvah [religious duty; ARC], however, to eradicate Jewish traitors, minnim, and apikorsim, and to cause them to descend to the pit of destruction, since they cause difficulty to the Jews and sway the people away from God, as did Jesus of Nazareth and his students, and Tzadok, Baithos, and their students. May the name of the wicked rot." 6. Yes you did hear that correctly...."May Jesus rot." Lord Jesus bring your light!!!
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Bonnie Morris
The New World Order and the Talmud. What does the Talmud have to do with it? It's the hidden cornerstone of the NWO agenda.

I never realized it either until recently. I mean we've had spin doctors and disinfo agents over the past hundred
years making sure we believed all the evils were beget through Catholicism. In fact, I think I just finally put the last piece to this NWO puzzle together. At least in my mind. Now it all makes sense. I love how God works. You never where you're going until you're already in it.

The Talmud is the Satanic version of the Torah. The Jews have an oral version of the Torah called the Tenach, or which some call the Talmud, but the Talmud a minority of real Jews are familiar with is not the Talmud being used today. The Babylonian Talmud has taken precedence since 1905 and is blasphemous. In fact every Jew today is taught through this particular Talmud. It refers to Jesus as an idol, and His worshippers as idolaters. It claims Jesus was into beastiality and is burning in hell in a pool of semen. Now where would that come from? Satan Himself. The books of the Talmud are based on the teachings of the Pharisees. To understand why Jesus held such contempt towards this ancient sect of elitists, Christians must have some knowledge of the books of the Talmud—a set of 63 books written by ancient rabbis. These books contain the legal code which is the basis of todays Judaism and Jewish law. In fact, Talmudic Judaism is primarily a legal system in a literal sense. It
has little to do with religion. It is more of an ancient political cult group with many followers who are not openly Jewish. This is why so many Jews openly claim to be Jewish and atheist at the same time. Google: The Talmud and New World Order.