Having Faith that Hashem Believes in Us
Every year at the holidays, I take on three different mitzvah goals. It’s a wonderful practice to take a small meaningful step forward as an affirmation of my teshuva and commitment to living better this coming year. It needs to be something measurable, and easy enough to actually stick to over the long run.
The first mitzvah goal is an improvement in my relationship with Hashem. I take on some kind of improvement in Jewish practice. The second is an improvement of myself. I commit to taking a meaningful step forward towards accomplishing my personal goals. The third mitzvah goal is an upgrade in the way I treat the people around me- how I relate to others.
In this third category, I took upon myself last year, not to lose my temper and yell at my kids, which I’m embarrassed to say happens from time to time.
I feel horrible every time it happens so I took that as my mitzvah goal in the category of how I treat others. I feel like I did pretty good in this area over the course of the last year. Though I wasn’t the perfect parent, I was a lot more calm when I had to discipline them.
They say the last 12 days before Rosh Hashana, each day atones for a month of the year. I was committed to being on my best behavior these past two weeks.
So there it is, a week before Rosh Hashana, I’m driving the kids to school and little Roey has his big cup of banana smoothy that he drinks every morning. Every morning I wake him up and say, “Roey, what do you want for breakfast?” and every day he says, “toast and a smoody”. I don’t know why I keep asking because it’s always the same. I guess I like hearing him say that.
When I ask Zev what he wants for breakfast, he says, “20 more minutes of sleep” which he then takes.
So we’re in the car with his big banana smoothy. Usually it’s in a sippy cup with a straw, but today, it was in the big uncovered cup from the ninja blender. In the morning rush, no one had given him a sippy cup.
Now it’s important that I mention that I decided to get our cars cleaned really well for the Yom Tov. Detailed- Like spotless. I do this every year before Pesach but I figured let’s do it before Rosh Hashana too.
We’re on our way to school and I hear Roey say, “I don’t want my smoody any more”. I say, “Avi, can you take his smoothy from him. “OK” says Avi. Then I hear PLOP and Avi says, “OH MAN!”.
Well I just lost it. The stress of the morning, the stress of the holidays, and a vision in my head of a gigantic banana and milk smoody slowly absorbing into my car’s carpet came together like a volcano in my brain and before I knew it. I was hollering like a real idiot.
When I yell like that, I get a pain in the neck that takes a week to go away. So stupid.
Now if you’re a parent, you’re either planning to report me to Child Protective Services, or thinking, oh yeah, I know exactly what he’s talking about.
I calmed down a bit and said in a harsh voice, “Listen all of you! You are never allowed to eat your breakfast in my car again… NEVER!!! You hear that?!!!!” Which in retrospect is a pretty good rule. We’ll see how long it lasts.
The truth is, it was my fault completely. I should have made sure he had a sippy cup.
Roey was quiet for the rest of the ride.
I dropped off the older kids and I was waiting to drop off Roey. I was feeling terrible at ruining everyone’s morning literally crying over spilled milk.
I took some tissues I had in the front and went around the side and started to soak up the mess. Roey was looking out the window. I said, “Roey, are you upset that I yelled?” He said, “Yes”. I said, “I’m really sorry that I yelled”. I dropped him off and even his teacher who met me at the car could tell Roey wasn’t his normal happy self. She said, “look at Roey, he’s still hasn’t woken up yet”, making me feel grateful and incredibly guilty at the same time.
Luckily kids are resilient and good at forgiving and letting things go. We should all be so easy to forgive and move on.
I saw him on the curb and I beeped my horn, smiled, and made a funny face at him. He looked up and giggled and I was relieved and comforted.
As I drove home, I thought about my mitzvah goal from last Rosh Hashana. Boy did I feel low. So depressed. What’s the use of all I say when nothing really changes?
If I can’t fix my anger issues a few days before Rosh Hashana, then what’s the use. I’m a loser.
Now to give myself some benefit of the doubt, the holidays are an extremely stressful time for rabbis, and in addition, any parent will tell you that the thought of a huge milky banana mess absorbing into your car’s carpet, possibly to give your car a cheesy smell forever, can push you over the edge. I’m not condemning myself. Rather I’m just pointing out a glaring problem that faces everyone who is trying to improve themselves with resolutions of change whether on January New Years or September New Years.
It often doesn’t work fully or at all.
There was a famous rabbi here in America named Avigdor Miller who was asked this question. It was recorded so I have it word for word:
Here’s the question:
Every year, before Rosh Hashana comes along, I make kabolos, resolutions, about improving myself in various areas of my service of Hashem. But here I am a week before another Rosh Hashanah, the same schlepper I’ve always been.
Rabbi Miller answers:
Let me tell you something. You’re not the same. Don’t think you’re the same…. You’re getting worse! As time goes on one who does a sin, and then repeats it again and again, it becomes no big deal to them. So, if you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.
I have to say, as I was reading this, I thought he was about to say, don’t think you’re the same, you are getting better, you just can’t see the incremental growth. And then the curveball- You’re not the same. You’re worse!!!
I’m a person who doesn’t mind tough love. I get it often from some of my congregants. But I think the rabbi’s point is too harsh. There is certainly some truth to his perspective but at the same time, I do think we’re getting better little by little. And at least we’re trying. But at the end of the day, the question remains, “What’s the use in trying”? “What’s the Use?”
This problem also has an important spiritual aspect. How can I approach Hashem on the High Holidays with my huge burden of sins, including so many which I had promised I was going to fix? Should Rosh Hashana be an awful and scary time where we grovel in fear and embarrassment at our many shortcomings?
Believe it or not, some would tell you “yes”, “absolutely!”
I disagree. Terror and guilt are not what underpin Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for me, and not for the rabbis and wise Jewish leaders who taught me all I know.
Rather, it’s a time of rejoicing. A time of forgiveness and reset. A time for gratitude for the time and the many blessings we’ve been given, and high hopes for a sweet year ahead. The High Holidays are happy and positive.
So then the question remains. How can the High Holidays be happy and positive in the face of our huge list of shortcomings, failures, and sins? How can we even dare to face Hashem?
There is no question that today is a Day of Judgement. All of our souls pass before Hashem to be judged on our merits, our mistakes, and our willful sins. Shouldn’t we be full of fear and awe? Shouldn’t we be depressed at our seeming inability to grow and change?
The answer can be found in a Psalm of King David- Psalm 27. It’s the High Holiday psalm that we say twice a day during the whole high holiday season.
The Psalm begins:
L’David Hashem Ori V’Yishee.
Hashem is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Hashem is my life’s strength, whom shall I dread?
When evil ones come to eat me alive, my tormentors and enemies, it is they who stumble and fall. Even if I am surrounded by my enemies, I will not fear. In this I trust.
What is the Psalm talking about? Zombies? King David’s experience with war? His faith that God will come through for him? Why would we read that on the High Holidays??
If this is the holiday psalm, it must be deeply connected to the core ideas of the High Holidays.
And it is.
The tradition understands that the enemies and tormentors King David is referring to are actually his sins and shortcomings.
But he says, I am not afraid at all, even if all seems hopeless, I am filled with hope, because I trust that Hashem is my light and my savior.
The Medrash comments on the words “my light and my savior”- “Ori, V’Yishi” and says:
Hashem Ori – Hashem is my light- zu Rosh Hashanah – this refers to Rosh Hashana.
V’yishi – and my salvation- zu Yom Kippur- this refers to Yom Kippur.
In other words, I have no fear because I have Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, days when our relationship with Hashem is renewed and reset, and I trust that Hashem will fight for me.
Let’s examine the words a bit more.
God is my light and salvation- Ori V’Yishi. What does this mean?
I believe it is referring to hope. Hashem is my light in the darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel.
God is my savior. God will rescue me from a difficult place. Even if I am surrounded by sins, trapped in bad habits, addictions, and negative ways of thinking, I believe that Hashem will rescue me and give me another year, another chance at correcting my direction.
So if you asked me to give a name to Psalm 27, I wouldn’t call it the High Holiday Psalm, I’d call it the Psalm of Hope.
Notice, it’s not that God will forgive us. It says nothing about God forgiving us. Rather, God’s going to fight for us!!
Hashem’s on our team!!!
It’s not naughty little us vs. Hashem the Great Judge.
Rather, it’s Hashem who is looking out for me, saving me, being my light…no matter what my sins or shortcomings are. Hashem believes in me!!!
B’zos Ani Boteach- “I put my faith in God to stand up for me in the time of judgement.”
This faith is the key to teshuva. The key is to trust that Hashem will forgive you because He wants you and believes in you.
Hashem believes in me.
It reminds me a song in a play that we used to watch with my mom when we were growing up- “Hair”. Sing along if you know it:
Manchester England England
Across the Atlantic Sea
And I’m a genius genius
I believe in God
And I believe that God
Believes in Claude
That’s me that’s me
Claude believes that God believes in him. Do we believe that?
That faith, the faith the Hashem believes in me, is most important feeling to have on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. More important than fear, more important than awe, even more important than regret or contrition.
Hashem believes in my ability to improve myself and the world around me, no matter what my track record is. And if Hashem believes in me, than I can reset everything and no matter what the past was, I can believe in myself.
That is the answer to the original question- What’s the use in even trying?
Believe in yourself! Hashem is giving you another chance, a reset, because Hashem believes in you, so believe in yourself!
Do we deserve it? Maybe yes, maybe no.
But we’re not coming here and praying for another year because we deserve it!
We have hope in the face of our sins. As we say in Avinu Malkeinu- The anthem of teshuva.
Ein Banu Maasim- We don’t have the deeds
I’m not coming to you based on my accomplishments at all. I don’t believe you will save me because of my good deeds. In fact, my good deeds are certainly not enough to repay you for the thousands of kindnesses and miracles you perform for us and our love ones every day.
If we were in Royal Farms trying to buy another year of life, we wouldn’t have the currency to pay!
No, I’m not saying I deserve it. But rather I trust in you that you want me here to continue on my mission.
I’m coming bare handed knowing you love me and are going to give me another chance to try again because my heart is awake and yearning to do it right.
You love me and believe in me.
So I believe in myself!!
Every morning we are supposed to wake up with a prayer called Modeh Ani.
Modeh Ani Lifanecha, Melech Chai V’Kayam, Shehechezarta Bi Nishmasi B’Chemlah, Rabba Emunahsecha.
I thank you, King of life and existence, for returning my soul to me with great mercy, You have so much faith!
You hear that:
“You have so much faith!”
Waking up each morning is proof that God believes in us!
If I woke up, if you gave me life this morning, it’s clear you must have great faith in my potential. So I’m going to believe in myself and jump out of bed ready to greet a new day! I’m going to start again with a whole new chance at doing it right.
High Holidays are about moving on. Leaving the difficult past behind.
As Elsa said, “The past is in the past” so “Let it Go!”
My friend and holy doctor Miguel Sadovnik turned me on to a beautiful song that was originally composed by Shlomo Carlebach but has become popular because of Rav Shlom Arush- a leader in the field of Jewish faith and emunah.
מה שהיה היה
,העיקר להתחיל מהתחלה
אבא תחזק אותי לגמרי
,תדליק לי את הנשמה
אבא תחזק אותי לגמרי
תדליק לי את הנשמה
The past is in the past. The main thing is to start again from the beginning.
Father, strengthen me completely! Ignite my soul!
It would be small if we only were applying this logic to ourselves. In fact, this hope for a better future is universal and applies to our community, to our city, to the country, and to the world. Built into our tradition is a faith and belief that Hashem believes in the whole world.
So just keep on trying. Don’t be jaded, don’t be cynical. Don’t stop setting goals. Don’t stop believing in yourself. Make incremental growth. Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up, just get right back up and start again.
And remember kids, No banana smoothies in Abba’s car!!