Many people are prepared to self-reflect during the Yomim Noroim period. Despite their sincerity, many will find it difficult to know about what they should be reflecting. I believe that people’s thoughts should be divided into two areas: a) General growth, the responsibility to improve the quality, and quantity, of their Mitzvohs performance and. b) Individual challenges, which are created by people’s natural weaknesses, their personal Nisyonos (tests), and individual opportunities. These are made possible, and for which they’re accountable, based on their individual strengths.
I find the Yomim Noroim very challenging for several reasons. I’d like to describe why, and the thoughts that go “through” my mind as I try to self-reflect. I assume that many others will share my challenges. Hopefully, when readers recognize that their challenges are similar to those of others, they’ll feel “normal” and will gather the energy to overcome their challenges. When people are aware that others share their weaknesses, they’ll often believe that “if others can confront their issues, so can I”.
1) I find it difficult to shift my focus from my daily responsibilities, and to acknowledge, to myself, that the coming days will affect my life for the next year. I know it’s true, but I can’t seem to switch gears as early, and consistently, as I should. When I finally switch gears, I’ve lost precious time, since I only, seriously, do it a few days before Rosh Hashono.
2) I’ve a difficult time remembering what I’ve done wrong throughout the year that will require my Teshuva. In most cases, anything that I’ve done more than a month ago I’ve forgotten. However, Hashem keeps records. Even when I remember the events in general, I’ve forgotten the details. It’s hard to properly do Teshuva when the Judge has a complete set of records, and the defendants have little to bring with them to court. While I may not be able to compensate for my lack of records I hope to present myself before the Judge with the appropriate amount of humility.
3) I’m afraid that all my efforts to be “perfect” will only focus on the tangible points, such as Teshuva, and increasing both the quality, and quantity, of my Mitzvoh performances. I’m afraid that I’ll ignore what’s even more important to Hashem, and that’s my relationship with Him. Relationships are primarily built on intangibles, and not the behaviors (doing the Mitzvohs) which are outgrowths of those intangibles.
Am I complaining about things, particularly about things that Hashem has given me for my good, even when I get stuck in the rain (which the world needs, but inconveniences me)? Am I learning to appreciate the Torah as the ultimate life coach? Am I beginning to truly appreciate that whatever Hashem wants me to do is for my good? In other words, can I begin to see Hashem as my father, and not just as my king?
4) I find it difficult to place my negative actions, and Hashem’s infinite patience, into the proper perspective. The last thing I want to do is to enter the Yomim Noroim with a swagger, or even the slightest tinge of misplaced confidence. I probably won’t swagger, but I’m certain that I’ll have an exaggerated amount of confidence that my judgement will be good.
5) I find it difficult to sustain any clarity that I achieve, even for only these few days. I can commit to looking inside my Siddur during Davening, but all I’ll do is increase the percentage of time I’m doing it. Consistency, and perfection, even for short periods of time, seem to be beyond my reach. This defines me, and not in a way that makes me feel good about myself or, more importantly, doesn’t make me “look” good to Hashem.
6) I worry about doing Aveiros even on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur. How do I act impatiently to my wife, and children, after an uplifting Tefilla? Does that mean I’m completely missing the point? Why can’t I avoid Loshon Horo, or other derogatory comments, for a combined three days (I’m not even thinking of the days between Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur.) I believe that better isn’t always good enough.
7) I try to console, and convince, myself that I’ve become a better person each year, even if I’m doing it at a terribly slow pace. That thought hasn’t consoled me as much, now, as it did in the past. When I was a teenager, and in my twenties, I could convince myself that as long as I was going in the right direction, I should be confident that I was doing enough for Hashem to find favor with me.
As I’ve become older, this thought doesn’t comfort me as much. While I hope, I”YH, that Hashem will bless me with a long life, I can’t deny that I’ve passed the point that’s reasonable to believe, is my life’s halfway mark. Thinking like a twenty-something-year old makes me feel foolish. Offering Hashem growth at a slow pace is probably not as compelling an argument to Hashem, at this stage of my life, as it was several years ago.
8) What’s probably the most difficult, recurring, thought for me, is that, “I should know better than to act as I’m acting”. It’s natural for people’s thoughts to be “ahead” of their behaviors.Most people have more clarity than their behaviors will acknowledge. The difference between people who are growing, and other people, is the width of the gap between what they know they should be doing, and how much they’re actually doing.
During the Yomim Noroim, the gap should become narrower. I fear that my gaps aren’t becoming narrower, and certainly not significantly enough. If throughout the year my gap is minimal enough to allow me to be considered a good person, that same gap should become narrower during the Yomim Noroim, in order for me to be considered good during this critical time.
I’ve presented my many concerns, which may be considered failures on my part. I’m sharing them with my readers in the hope that they’ll acknowledge those same faults. Acknowledging these concerns is the first step before focusing on making changes.
I’m not leaving readers with solutions, because they won’t have the time to implement them. My hope is to at least instill humility, and fear, into people, in order to help them realize what’s “really” taking place. Hashem is kind and patient. We’ve all been fooling ourselves. For these few days, let’s not fool ourselves. This’ll help us properly present ourselves to Hashem and, I”YH, will result in a Shono Tova U’misuka.