Welcome to the month of Elul, a very special month of introspection. The sixth month in the Hebrew calendar has been devised to be a wake-up call of sorts (insert shofar sound here) to prepare for the New [Jewish] Year. Much like the New Year we celebrate at the end of the Gregorian Calendar year this one requires awareness and concrete resolutions. However, unlike that New Year the month of Elul requires teshuva (repentance).
This week in my Ladies who Learn Torah meet up (I must devote a post to this delightful weekly event, but basically my fabulous Rabbi and several young women gather to discuss conversion, life, torah, mitzvot, etc.) we talked about the Jewish concept of sin and teshuva. Although I was not brought up in a religious household I attended a private Presbyterian school for middle and high school. There I learned a lot about the Christian concept of sin and transgressions against God, but I learned very little about atonement (perhaps I just didn’t pay attention). As far as I understand Catholics have Confession for the occasions (stealing, cheating, arguing with a sibling, disobeying parents and the like) and I suppose Christians have a similar discussions with their pastors. Still, to me that always seemed like an unnecessarily disconnected and insufficient way of acknowledging and apologizing (both to G-d and to whomever has been hurt). I was always a believer of directly addressing the matter with G-d, at the very least. I guess I can add it to the list of the Jewish way of doing things I understand.
Wednesday night in our discussion the Rabbi set out the task for the month in a novel way. I knew I was supposed to go to those I had wronged and apologize and then on Yom Kippur I was supposed to address my mistakes with G-d. However, last night I understood it in a much more harmonious way. Although there are transgressions that I would have to address with both a person and G-d (like stealing, since it hurts someone but also violates a commandment), it is required that I address my transgressions with those I have wronged not a third party or even just G-d.
Here is why I think that is awesome, it forces me to examine what I did, acknowledge what I did, and try to make up for what I did. Like everything else in Judaism it is about the here and now, I have to be a good person here and now, that is what matters, the thereafter is a direct result of the here and now. I love that. I never felt that emphasis elsewhere. Here is the hard part, it is not easy or pleasant to acknowledge that on several occasions I was not a good person.
I am amidst that process now, trying to figure out who I have hurt and in what ways I can improve. I wrote my first apology to a friend, someone I was close with and then I wasn’t. I struggled with doing so because I didn’t think I was the only one to blame, part of me felt like I wasn’t at all to blame. However in the spirit of the month I examined the situation and felt I should take the opportunity to apologize just in case I hurt him and because I had not made amends sooner.
Wednesday night we also talked about taking this time to do a little self-improvement. Yesterday morning I got a great message from my conversion twin, it was a very thoughtful breakdown on how she was going to improve herself from the inside out. I have also been on a path of self-improvement, albeit a lot more focused on a single issue: my perception of unpleasant situations (and as a result my temper). I can be volatile at times, I blame my Cuban temper, and I can very quickly jump to hurtful conclusions as to why someone acted in a way I didn’t like (they don’t care about me, they’re inconsiderate, etc.). I have been trying to change that and communicate instead (this was hurtful, why did you act this way*) and I think I have improved.
There are other areas of my character I’d like to improve and certain aspects of relationships in my life I should take the time to address. I want to start the new year with as clean a slate as I can possibly make it, it’s in my power to do so. This has been a year of change and growth and sometimes in the process issues are overlooked and people are hurt. There are topics I should probably address with my parents, with my friends and with myself. I want to be a better woman, I strive to be better to others and to myself, I want to be a better attorney, I try to educate myself and grow in my profession, I want to be more spiritually connected, I want to feel Jewish every day, I want to be a better daughter, sister, granddaughter, partner and friend and that requires time and communication. This weekend I will draft a concrete list of ways to accomplish that and I will think about those I may have hurt intentionally or otherwise. I will start to make amends with others and myself.
Although this will be my third time observing Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur, it will be my very first Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur as a Jew. That adds a little extra incentive to do it right. On Yom Kippur I want to feel as pristine as the white dress I will wear, completely ready to atone, immerse myself in introspection and prayer, and start anew.
*okay, that’s how I want to react I haven’t actually gotten that eloquent.