Rosh Hashanah, Repentence, and Remembering
This is the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I remember being told as a kid that Rosh Hashanah marked the beginning of a 10 day period when the Book of Life was opened and that I would either be inscribed in it OR NOT before the book closed on Yom Kippur. Great! That’s the stuff of childhood nightmares. The literalness of the concept doesn’t work well for kids or adults but the ideas do. What is lovely, very useful, and psychologically healthy about Rosh Hashanah is the belief that, at the beginning of the (Jewish) new year, we ought to take stock of our lives, repair broken relationships, ask forgiveness for our misdeeds, think about and care for others, and generally get started on a better path for the year to come.
To do this, we are required to engage in three actions – “teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (good deeds, usually charity)”. Repentance has an actual set of behaviors that make a lot of sense. We reflect on our behaviors and then we seek reconciliation with people we may have wronged during the course of the year. In my sardonic moments (which happen after a certain number of hours in synagogue), I have wondered if psychologists and therapist-types ought to be excused from reflecting on our behaviors. We spend so much time in this activity every day, it becomes a habit. Reflection is easy – change is hard. Perhaps therapists ought to have an asterisk in this section of the prayers that tells us to move along to less familiar, more challenging activities such as reconciliation and good deeds.
Reconciliation requires righting the wrongs we have committed against people so, for many years during services, I remembered Janet, a friend from grade school. We became distant in high school and I had other girls with whom I was much closer. Then, the summer before senior year, I went to a camp in the mountains to be a junior counselor for the first time. Several close friends had spent a million summers there; so had Janet. When I got to camp, my friends were not interested in me; they had other people and I was not invited into their groups. Strangely, Janet, who was quite the star of the place, decided to spend the summer with me. We had a great time. It didn’t make us best friends forever but I think about Janet on Rosh Hashanah because I never thanked her for being a better friend to me than I had been to her. It has always felt like unfinished business – righting one of my personal misdeeds.
Of course, two weeks ago, out of the blue, after more than 40 years, Janet called me. I recounted my memories and thanked her for being a better friend when it counted. Of course, this should be enormously satisfying; the stuff Oprah has built an empire on! But Janet remembered all of this differently – she remembered me as a good friend and had no need of my repentance. I hope this doesn’t ruin my chances to be written into the Book of Life. And I’m going to have to find something brand new to reflect on this year during services.
(this was first published last year)