Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
It’s been a long time since I been a good practicing Jew. I support my
synagogue financially and I attend the High Holiday services, but it’s
mostly to connect with family and legal clients, not because I’m truly
drawn towards a deeper relationship with religion. But one of my best
friends has just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and another
died of a heart attack in his 40s right after we went to the opera with
our wives. One minute he was humming along and an hour later he
had dropped dead before he got back home. So I am thinking more
about both my mortality and what it means to use the days of my life.
How can I use the HH to make myself a better person and change
some of my life priorities? I don’t expect a radical makeover, but I
miss feeling like I am more than a workaholic machine.
One of the most intrinsic concepts to the High Holidays is teshuvah,
which means return, where return is to both a relationship with God
and to your true self. It’s often discussed in terms of making amends
for what you’ve done wrong, with all the discussion, apologies, and
atonement that accompany admitting your lapses and sins, large and
small. But it’s also about understanding, and committing to, what you
need to do better. Doing teshuvah with real sincerity will help energize
you to live the best life you can, not merely for yourself but for others,
from sick friends to work colleagues. It will stretch the crack in your
soul that your friends’ experiences have opened in you. It’s not easy,
but is a wonderful annual reminder about honesty and humility.
The rabbis describe how different teachers discipline students. One
would reprimand, demanding the student acknowledge the wrong and
agree to make amends. The other would say, I’m disappointed you
didn’t live up to who you really can be. Your soul is much greater than
that. Follow whichever teshuvah practice helps you live more awareness
sensitivity in the New Year. Stick or carrot, keep striving for
A year ago I almost died in a fire. It generated a deep form of
teshuvah. I looked at each aspect of my world anew, and paid very
close attention to how I felt in various situations. I became more
discerning about when/why/how I was restless, lonely, annoyed,
hungry, and bored, as well as when I was joyous, attentive, playful,
and creative. I started to meditate regularly (there are many strong
meditative traditions within Judaism). I found myself gravitating more
towards silence, kindness, and happiness, and choosing to move away
from judgment and negativity, whether it was in myself or in others.
Don’t pressure yourself to change too fast; and don’t set the bar
unreasonably high. Allow yourself to actively experience what it feels
like to shift how you think of yourself (and how others may perceive
you), to change what you do, and with whom you spend time.
Teshuvah is self-generating. It will soften and lighten you, heart and
soul. It will change you deeply.
Working on your soul and on how you live your life is important work.
Help your friend with cancer. Being an active part of his support team
will keep you from being too self-centered. Visit your friend’s grave
and talk to his spirit. Go to services for the High Holidays but also
more often during the year. Ask for help in prayer and make time to
listen to your own heart, whether that’s through meditating or nature
walking. Take a class in your synagogues community ed program.
Read some great Holocaust fiction (not an oxymoron). Talk to your
older relatives about what being Jewish means to them. Volunteer
time with a local organization that helps those with less. Participate in
dialogues about racial or income inequity. Feel more and do less. Just
practice being more of a human instead of a working professional.
You will feel a state of renewal that will impact each future choice you
make. Your life will become more conscious and less reactive. This is
the beginning of tikkun olam, of healing and repairing the world. Like
the phrase Think globally, act locally, you are starting change within
your heart and soul that will flow through you to those around you.