In all my years of mothering, I can’t recall a time when there were three full weeks of school prior to the start of the Yom Tov season. As mentioned in my previous articles, the usual mad dash at the start of the school year with Yom Tov starting soon after always leaves me in a bit of a tizzy, so this year has been a refreshing change in terms of embracing the Elul experience. Generally, I do not practice what I preach, but this year I was able to eliminate once vice during Elul and it was a productive experience. While I didn’t spend much time focusing on my approach to teshuva, I tried to focus on finding the correlation between Hashem’s comfort and my faith in Him. So my first step was to reread my writing from last year when I delved into the idea of faith. Simply put, in order to feel Hashem’s comfort, one needs to have faith in Hashem’s ability and strong desire to comfort.
I hope we can all agree that our faith is the fundamental core of our existence. In order to receive comfort from Hashem, a person must have faith in the way in which He chooses to comfort. The physical comfort we receive from Hashem generally comes via a human shaliach. But that’s when it can get tricky. We’ve all likely had the experience that we’ve had a friend call to comfort us after a negative experience and we hung up the phone feeling a whole lot worse. But shouldn’t Hashem have known that it hadn’t been not helpful?
And then we bring back our faith and remind ourselves that Hashem has already given us the resources and that we have everything we need, whether or not it looks like it right this second. I was recently going through a particularly hard experience and mused to a friend that maybe this experience is just a kapara for something worse that was supposed to happen. Let’s just say, my opinion was quickly shot down for just being too awful to comprehend. Should our approach to the world be, “it could always be worse?” Probably not. It does seem awfully harsh and negative.
Our religion has an interesting approach to punishments. Over the past few weeks’ kriat hatorah, we learn of some pretty intense sins and their respective punishments. Luckily, most of these concepts are not relatable to our lives today so we can breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve never been one of those people who believes the hardships in my life are punishments. It’s just too depressing to think that my hardships could have been preventedI had been a better person and hadn’t sinned.
On the other hand, there’s a well-known concept that Hashem automatically accepts our teshuva on the Yamin Noraim. While every day of the year we have the capability to do teshuva, there is a guarantee it will be accepted on Yamim Noraim so we automatically get a clean slate. It’s another reminder of Hashem’s infinite capacity to forgive us for grievous actions when we can face so much difficulty forgiving people who have hurt us.
A couple of days ago, I was with a friend and noticed someone observing a particular religious act in a way that I have chosen not to observe the same act. (I’m purposely being vague; please bear with me.) I mumbled something negative about how I couldn’t believe this is how this person was choosing to lead their Torah life. My friend simply responded, “Why does it matter? Everyone can choose to live their Torah life any which way they would like.” No truer words have been spoken. Who was I to judge how someone chooses to have a relationship with Hashem?
I’ve always been intimidated by the idea that everything for the upcoming year is decided and sealed within the first few weeks of the year. The hard part is realizing that Hashem’s idea of success for us might be different than what we’ve envisioned for ourselves. We end up putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves for so many materialistic and physical things and in most cases it has no impact on the inner core that makes us unique. While peers may be critical and make insulting comments about our actions, that will never happen with Hashem. The idea of believing Hashem is kulo tov is so hard to internalize, but seems like the only way to get through the day. I know I’ve said this before, but I know for myself it never hurts to hear it again.
So where does that leave us, just a few days into the new year? Have we set new goals? Are they attainable? Maybe we’re not ready for any new goals. Maybe we’re not even ready to think about change. And you know what? That’s OK.
When a child comes home from school stressing about a big test, generally the parents just want to see the child try and make an effort. Kal v’chomer, Hashem just wants to see his precious children make an effort. Each person is unique and more importantly, each person has an independent relationship with his/her Creator. What’s good for you might not be good for someone else and vice versa. We each stand in shul and each person faces a personal Yom HaDin; while we are begging for our lives, Hashem is begging for a relationship with us. Maybe, for some people, this year isn’t about actual or physical change, but maybe it’s about renewing our relationship with Hashem and having faith in His master plan. G’mar tov to all.
Rachel Zamist lives in Passaic with her daughter, Mimi, a freshman in high school.