At sundown on Friday, September 18, the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah, will begin. Every year this is a time of tremendous focus for rabbis everywhere: preparing for our biggest (best attended) and supremely important (spiritually speaking, that is) “Days of Awe,” as they are called in Hebrew.
During these days , which go from September 18 to sundown on September 28, we are engaged in deep introspection, prayer, repairing of relationships and general setting of life direction. We eat apples and honey, blow the ram’s horn, and then fast on the day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It is a very full time.
Often rabbis will focus on calling upon congregants to earnestly reflect on places they need to improve their lives: their character, their relationships, their giving to charity. This year I decided to go a different direction, and here’s why.
If being hard on one’s self — constantly demanding near perfection, a nagging sense of not living up to some gold standard of spirituality — helped one improve spiritually, I would be saint.
But I’m not. I still struggle and am consistently imperfect.
So I decided this year to take a different tack: instead of approaching growth with a focus on imperfection, I decided to teach from the perspective of helping people see what about themselves is wonderful.
Have you seen those great billboards from Foundation for a Better Life? Check out www.values.com/billboards
Consider this story, which came to me by way of William Diedrich:
In Africa, a group of people called the Babemba (People of the Lake) have a practice they use whenever someone hurts others, when someone behaves unjustly or irresponsibly. The community stops its day-to-day business, and every woman, man and child of the village stand in a circle around that person.
Each person in the village tells that person all of the good traits they have seen in him. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any and every detail and accuracy is recounted. All his POSITIVE attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindness are recited carefully and at length.
The ceremony can take hours, or even days until everyone has spoken. At the end, the tribal circle is opened, a joyous celebration takes place and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.
The assumption here is that the person who hurts others has forgotten who he is. The villagers use the ceremony to remind him who he is. They believe that if someone truly knows himself and appreciates himself, he will have no need to harm others.
Watch out Suttons Bay! I decided that as I walk down the street this coming year, I am going to try to look at everyone, even folks I find difficult, as if we are gathered in their circle of loving reflection.
So Shanah Tova U’m'tukah (happy and sweet new year) to those who celebrate this holiday and blessings on everyone who does a kind deed. Jewish or not, dip some apples in honey and share them with friends this next week — it invites blessings of abundance and sweetness for the year ahead. We’ll be watching for you in Suttons Bay.