Regret and Renewal
The metaphysics of a world returning to the alignment of beginning blows in the air, as summer winds to a close and the New Year approaches. The month of Elul which leads us to Rosh Hashanah, is marked by the wake-up calls of the shofar and a series of prayers called selichot – more or less, a grand catalogue of “I’m sorry” songs.
The reason Judaism remains so dear to us, even as times change and the way we live is profoundly different from the ancestors who spun out these customs from mythological antiquity, is that the spiritual technology inherent in our holidays hits the nail of humanity pop on the head. As we go through the day-to-day of our lives, even when we carry ourselves with deep intentionality, we can’t help but make blunders large and small, mistakes, misunderstandings, and frustrations that cause harm to ourselves and those around us. We need, regularly, to say, “I’m sorry” as individuals and as a community. Rosh Hashanah without Yom Kippur would feel cheap, like a New Year’s Eve resolution forgotten in a week. The Jewish holidays work on our very souls, because regret and renewal are intertwined, and the technology of prayers, meals, community, and celebration allow us to take stock of our lives, and begin again.
Wherever you are spending this last weekend of summer, I hope you’ll find a few quiet moments by yourself or with friends, to reflect on your little blunders from the past year. In Hebrew, the word sin, chet, which carries so many terrible religious overtones, is simply an arrow that has missed its mark. In your heart of hearts you never wish to hurt anyone, but sometimes in the winds of the world our arrows fall outside the eye. The consciousness that we give to these moments are in direct proportion to the feeling of renewal that will come with the New Year.
Rabbi Zach Fredman