Wouldn't it be nice to wake up the day after Yom Kippur with a truly blank slate? With the opportunity to begin from scratch, to erase all the sins of omission and commission that we registered this past year, and to start all over again?
That's the promise of these Days of Awe, but we all know that it's easier said than done. It's all too simple to fall back on our old ways, confident that we can just hit the teshuvah replay button again the next time the High Holidays roll around.
Still, Judaism provides us a unique opportunity to ask the tough questions, to reflect on the year gone by and to think about how we want to live and act differently in the year ahead.
It's a tricky business, this season of deep introspection and contrition, but it's an opportunity we shouldn't squander.
We know how challenging it can be to repair and strengthen our personal and professional relationships.
We know how exhausting it can be to expend extra energy to spend more time with family and friends, to really listen to those around us and to appreciate the blessings in our lives.
The challenges are particularly daunting amid the economic and political uncertainty that continues to engulf us. We face — or likely know someone facing — unemployment or job paralysis. We recognize food insecurity as a growing problem, especially among the seniors in our community and beyond.
We worry about the financial health of our nation, the environment, the specter of bruising campaign battles in an election year, the growing isolation of Israel — and much more.
But before we become paralyzed by the enormity of these global problems, and our frequent sense of helplessness, we need to take a deep breath and focus first on our own shortcomings.
In a recent essay titled, "Yom Kippur: The Blessing of Failure," Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, cites political scientist Benjamin Barber of Rutgers University, who divides the world into learners and non-learners: "those who acknowledge their failures, learn from them, and move forward as opposed to those who can't admit ever having done anything wrong, never learn from their mistakes, and doom themselves to reliving the errors of their ways."
On Yom Kippur, we have to define ourselves in light of this concept, Blech says. "That's why on Yom Kippur, when we're asked to reflect upon whether our lives can be considered a success, we're judged by whether we're courageous enough to confess our sins and to admit our failures.
"To acknowledge, to God and to ourselves, where we've gone wrong in our lives doesn't diminish us. On the contrary, it affords us the wisdom and strength to grow and to improve."
It's the first — and critical — step toward the promise of that new day.