Jewish Journal


September 3, 2013

Jewish Holidays—This Year, Avoid Guilt



“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” -Steve Maraboli

My greatest problem with the school system in America is that they teach so many different subjects, but fail to include classes about emotional development and resilience. We learn to read and write, subtract and multiply—we learn to memorize heaps of information that we will likely later forget. Along the way, we learn manners, how to be polite, and when to say sorry.

It seems so systematic, doesn’t it? Go to school, develop skills, make some friends, get into college, succeed at something, find a partner, get married, have children, and if you make mistakes along the way, just apologize, ask for forgiveness and move on.

If we didn’t learn how to deal with the world as children, what makes us so sure we are prepared to deal with it now?

With two Jewish holidays—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—coming up, this is a perfect time to reflect.

For the first time ever, I stayed in temple throughout the entire duration of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services last year. This is what I remember:

The rabbi asked everyone to examine themselves and reflect on the range of emotions you feel throughout your typical week. Surely we all feel happiness, sadness, anger, jealousy, etc., but we haven’t learned to solidify and define our values, and act in accordance with them. Instead, we helplessly react to life’s circumstances, because nobody taught us better. For example, a feeling of anger may temporarily influence you to initiate a confrontation—but anger requires self-control, especially if a person values maintaining friendships and relationships. Jealousy could propel someone to gossip, but if you bite your tongue, you may save yourself from hurting somebody.

Like most people in the synagogue, I decided I wanted to implement this newfound way of thinking into my life. Fast forward to a year later… did I succeed at behaving perfectly until now? Of course not. Out of fear, I have failed to speak up. Out of carelessness, I have wasted some days. And out of complacency and not knowing better, I have probably offended people I love.

We are going to be spending a lot of time at temple in the next few weeks, and in a way, that requires some preparation. What do these two holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur really represent? And how do we properly observe them?

Rosh Hashanah, the head/start of the year, represents the day the world was created. It means we can start all over again. We can examine who we have been, and in doing so, decide on who we want to be. Not who we want to be in terms of work or status, but who we want to be as human beings—an introspection that empowers us to reassess our goals and personal struggles.

And in conjunction with this reflection, ten days later, we are asked to repent and ask for forgiveness for our sins on Yom Kippur. Many of us approach those we have offended or mistreated, in hopes that they will accept our apologies. Some of us, though I’m not quite sure why, send less personal mass texts to their peers, assuming this will suffice and rid them of their guilt. Why are we focusing so much on other people and not on ourselves?

This year I wonder: Is this really what Yom Kippur is about? Inducing guilt?

Already, we deal with daily pressures of belonging to a community, adhering to social norms, and dealing with different types of people.

Many of us who belong to the Iranian Jewish community are also feeling guilt for words that were spoken against the gay community—words that weren’t even our own.

I’m all for apologizing and reflecting, but in doing so, let’s eliminate the “guilt factor” this year. If you feel bad about something you did, acknowledge it, apologize for it, then let it go. Learning from your mistakes will help you. Guilt does nothing but propel sadness. We are entering a new year, and being given a clean slate, a new chance, and we will be granted with the same opportunity a year from now.

This year, let’s be more concerned about how we plan to improve, not focus on how terribly we acted or bask in our guilt—starving is punishment enough as it is. ;)

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