Teshuvah, Truth, and Goodness

Each year, we dig deep to look in the mirror and closely examine the wrongs we may have done to our fellows and against our Creator. We confess what we’ve done, we have real regret, and we make a promise to not do it again. We go through this every year at this time and while we don’t need to wait until the High Holy Days to reset our course, this is a community-wide time to focus on it. The danger, I believe, is in losing sight of the good. 

When I was young, I believed that I was a burden on everyone around me. I was another mouth to feed and a true mistake. I thought that my only value was at a distance but if people got close, they would only see what had been confirmed again and again – I was useless. I didn’t talk a lot about it but all the signs were there. This was usually masked by trying to be funny or entertaining. It was not a wonderful way to grow up and I convinced myself of a lot of lies. Thankfully, I met someone who loved me hard enough to change my mind and I eventually learned to love myself. 

I mention the above because I believe it can be the danger in doing Teshuvah the wrong way. We should closely examine the wrongs we have done but the key is in acknowledging the mistake without thinking that we are the mistake. It’s one of the things we focused on when raising our son. You may have done something wrong but it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It was a choice and you can make another one. Acknowledging our sins can be painful but there is a difference between owning our action and beating ourselves up. If we do that, we start lying to ourselves and in a sense, committing Lashon Hara against ourselves. 

It’s no secret that you will find all kinds of validation if you go looking for it. If you go looking for villains, you will find them. If you start trying to convince yourself of negative things about yourself, you will eventually do it. Our minds are beautifully designed to help us and if we start turning pain on ourselves, our brain will assist. We have to teach it what the truth is so that it knows how to help us the right way. 

So here is a truth for you. You are not damaged goods and you are not broken. You are whole and complete and loved by the One exactly as you are. You may have done something wrong but there is nothing wrong with you. It was a choice and you can make another one. You are not a mistake and you are not a burden. You are part of the wonder and beauty of creation. This world is a tremendous gift and you are part of that gift. 

There is far more good in the world than evil and there is far more right than wrong. We are surrounded by so many examples of this, but it is easy to lose sight of it when the good is everywhere. After all, fish probably don’t think about water. When the bad comes in, it’s often louder than everything else because of the contrast. The danger in that loudness is in letting it consume us and allowing it to become the dominant sound. If we do that, the world can seem bleak and less than the wonder it is. The same goes for us. 

As we go into the High Holy Days, I hope that you are kind to yourself in your honesty. I hope you remember how incredible you are and if we have not met yet, I can’t wait to shake your hand. The world needs you and I’m glad that we’re sharing a lifetime together. 

This song is called “Return” and is all about the work we do at this time. Please feel free to share with anyone you think might enjoy it. The amazing singer with me is our dear friend, Abbie Strauss. She’s a tremendous artist and if you haven’t heard her music, you should really go check it out. She’s currently in Memphis doing wonderful work with the community at Temple Israel as their Cantorial Soloist and is the founder of the Institute of Jewish Rock. 

Here’s to you for all the good you do. Make it a brave and sweet new year. 

- Joe

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