In the next few days, we will be sitting in shul on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, making a chesbon hanefesh, a reckoning of our actions and reactions. We will plead with Hashem to forgive our sins, wrongdoings and transgressions. We will beat our chests and say Al Chait – listing our shortcomings, and asking forgiveness for our failings in not heeding Hashem’s directives and commandments, including those that involve ethical treatment of friends, relatives and strangers alike.
Every year we promise that if we are inscribed in the Book of Life; if we are given another opportunity to start anew, we will mend our ways and improve the way we treat one another. We would be kinder, more generous – both with our time and our money – and be less disparaging and censorious in assessing other people.
Although difficult, we would try so much harder to actually be less judgmental and scornful of those who look or act differently.
My grandson who is in a yeshivish middle school in Israel – his family made aliyah – recently told me how a handful of what he perceived as chassidishe boys were screaming down at his friends from an elevated sidewalk and hurtling insults as they played soccer in the schoolyard below during a break. Kids are kids but where did this distain for others not “like them” come from? It unlikely came out of thin air.
We negotiate with Hashem in the waning hours of Yom Kippur that we will make an effort to go overboard in giving people the benefit of the doubt when something they did or did not do was questionable in terms of how proper or “kosher” it was.
We assure ourselves that we will take the high road and refrain from lashon hara or spreading gossip – even if the information is true.
We would set aside our jealousy and truly fargin another person’s good fortune and wish him/her well, instead of secretly seething and wondering why, for example, our neighbor’s daughter got engaged and ours is older “and has so many more mylas (assets, like looks or personality) so why did our friend have it so easy, while we are pulling teeth to get our daughter a date?
Many of us are sincere when we fervently resolve during those Days of Awe to elevate ourselves and be Torahdik Jews.
But, being flawed human beings, once we feel we are “out of danger,” we relax and let our guard down. With Yom Tov over, we tend to resume our regular routines and let old habits control us once again.
Our annual intention to reform our behaviors is sincere, but sadly, we usually fall back to our old ways rather quickly.
It is so crucial that we keep the “promises” we made to our Merciful Father, and be mind-full of the blessings He bestows on us on a daily basis, and hence hold back from slipping into our familiar, unfortunate habits.
Below is a poem that expresses how despite our best intentions, despite our hakarat hatov to Hashem for his benevolence, we regress. We are grateful for His continuous forgiveness and mercy – though we often are undeserving of His chesed.
In the dark of the night, I turn on the light,
I thank You, my Creator, for the gift of my sight.
Yet I misuse Your blessing – I cause others to cry,
Jealously and resentment bring out my Evil Eye.
When my children call out, I have no fear,
I thank You, my Maker, for letting me hear.
Yet I use this bracha to tune in to malicious chatter,
If what’s said is even true – it doesn’t really matter.
When I need to convey, to verbally reach,
I open my mouth – You blessed me with speech.
But I abuse my heavenly gift, for I gossip, I smear,
Even those who trust me, who hold me so dear.
My hands enable me to do as I please,
I can touch, I can hold, I can grasp with great ease.
Yet I use this divine blessing to hit, to cause pain,
Even when my heart knows there is nothing to gain.
I can go, I can do, I can move when I’m ready,
You have given me legs that are strong and steady.
Yet I run to do acts that I know are not right,
Giving in to impulses that I chose not to fight.
This Yom Kipper was no different than those of the past,
I promised to mend my ways – but my will didn’t last.
I behaved, I self-controlled, I had a few good days,
But I quickly fell back to my familiar, errant ways.
You have been so patient. You have forgiven me each year.
Truly You are a Father who holds His children dear.
Please continue to forgive me though my iniquities persist,
For without Your loving chesed, I wouldn’t exist.