Once in a while something special – something holy – happens when you’re least expecting it. When we began “Sacred Texting,” an alternative experience for Yom Kippur afternoon, we never imagined how powerful it would become.
Each year, with a guarantee of anonymity, we ask those present to share honest self-evaluation: Heshbon Nefesh in the words of our tradition. The results have humbled me, both because we succeed in creating a place where people feel safe to share their hopes and even their weaknesses, and because it helped me realize that we, together, are imperfect human beings striving to do better.
As we begin anew this season of Heshbon Nefesh, I invite you to read some of the answers to last year’s questions. Then I encourage you to be as honest with yourself about your answers as these people were with theirs.
QUESTION: If you could place ONE sin/transgression/weakness/shortcoming on the “scape-goat” to be carried away forever, what would it be?
Being a bad listener
Lack of patience at times
Something I did in 1992-1993
Abuse of children
Engaging less than 100%
Doing things that hurt my friends without considering the consequences
QUESTION: What keeps us from letting go of the sin/transgression/weakness/shortcoming (the one you want to give to the scape-goat)? Why does it keep coming back?
It’s satisfying in the short term
Don't appreciate what I / we have
Because I am afraid I can do it again and I don't want to
Unwillingness to let go
Trying to have it all
It's part of my identity
Not prioritizing myself
My own selfishness and lack of self-control or self-respect
Inability to focus and having too much on my plate
It's easier to keep the negative then to strive to work and work and work to keep the positives
I still don't have the strength to push it away
Taking on too many responsibilities at once
Desire for control
It is hard to break old habits
Afraid to / of the change
QUESTION: How could God help you to let go of the sin/transgression/weakness/shortcoming you are thinking about? (Please answer whether or not you believe God exists.)
Give me something to love, to have a passion for
Remind me in some way every day...
Give me strength to believe I can do it
I do not think God has the ability to provide me with more patience. I believe it can only come from within me
Gaining clarity and conviction on my true priorities
To help me find myself through Judaism and give me something to care about other than myself
Believing that I was given potential by something bigger than just me
Make me keep on trying and not to give up
By giving some sign that he/she is listening
Give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change…
By helping me see the positive aspects of my life instead of me constantly focusing on my shortcomings
By teaching me not to care so much about possessions, especially what others might classify as "junk"
Give me peace of mind
Perhaps by giving me a focus on something other than my fear of change
Make me more patient
This August and September we will introduce the newest prayerbook created by the Reform Movement: Mishkan HaLev, Prayers for Selichot and Elul. It follows the style of our new High Holiday prayerbook, combining traditional prayers with modern ones. But no prayerbook, traditional or modern, can possibly reflect the needs and desires of the heart of every person using it. Our ancestors recognized this, and created space in every service for silent, personal prayer. We take this idea even further by offering opportunities for you to weave your thoughts into the printed word.
Heshbon Nefesh, taking an account of our lives, is personal, painful and productive. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but we Jews knew that long before Socrates was born. I invite you to join us from the first Shabbat in Elul (August 25) through the end of Simchat Torah as our sacred community asks the difficult questions together and attempts to answer them – every man, woman and child – individually.
I wish you a sweet, healthy and peaceful New Year. A better year.
Rabbi Don Weber