Monday, August 16, 2010

No Regrets?

Step Two: Regret and Repentance

Today I sat down at my computer, ready to tap out thoughts about regret and repentance for this second week of Elul leading us to teshuva.

In the moments before my fingers hit the keys, I realized I couldn’t speedily transform the materials I had studied into an entry. I needed time to absorb them; time to allow my own understanding to come to the surface and then, time to translate it into words with some meaning. So that the words would be worth reading.

So I put on my Nike walking shoes and Chicago Botanic Gardens baseball cap and headed into the heat for a walk around my neighborhood. Those 30 minutes allowed me to breathe a little, reflect, and then gather my thoughts before writing this entry.

Which is, I concluded, the gift that Elul gives us. In the weeks before the Holy Days, we have to gather our thoughts. Doing so offers us a chance to go deeper than last year; get more from the experience than breath-catching or a few moments of sleep.

With this running leap into the holidays, we get a chance to sift through our regrets instead of hastily listing them to ourselves as we sit in services. Rushing to the synagogue without any preparation is not likely to move us much further when we walked in the sanctuary doors.

A story to illuminate the point:

Two merchants, one alert and the other less so, traveled together to a market to purchase goods and produce, each carrying a considerable sum of money. Feeling weary, they stopped at an inn to sleep and placed their money under their pillows. In the morning they awoke and got on their way, forgetting to take their money with them. When they discovered their loss, the simplistic merchant suggested, “Let’s hurry on because it soon will be market day.” His more sophisticated companion replied, “You stupid fool, what good will it do for us to hurry now that we are empty handed? The most sensible thing is to turn back and search for our money on every road we took and after we find it, we’ll travel to the market.”

If we don’t bring our money bundle with us into the High Holidays - our regrets, our repentance and our good deeds – we have nothing to prove our sincerity, not only to God but to ourselves.

How can we present ourselves before God with empty hands? According to Philip Goodman in the “The Rosh Hashonah Anthology,” the prudent one says, “We must first search out the ways that led us astray and expiate our guild. Only then can we return to God.”

Prompt #1

Reflecting on the past year, what is in your regret bundle? Have you made an effort to repair it? If you have, how was it received? What did you take away from this experience?

Prompt #2

What is holding you back from making the effort or changes for this year?

Next week: Rejection.

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