BY RABBI GERALD R. FOX
You know the feeling. C’mon, you know what that moment is like when you become aware of what you’ve done.
Don’t look around to see if someone is watching you read this column. Stay with me. Yes, I am talking about that moment of realization the day after the wedding party, the Bar Mitzvah party, the raucous Shabbat dinner with your friends who belong to a wine club and haven’t had guests over in a while.
It is the moment that we become aware of who we are by our deeds that we become eminently self-conscious. In that moment, we are awkwardly focused on the definition of our identity that is based upon the measureable outward moments of our existence. The good news is that we are more than that (presumably) low-point in our field of view.
On Yom Kippur, the intense, intimate and lengthy liturgy brings us to a place of introspection that is often weighted in our minds much more heavily on results than intent or status.
Who we are, the core of our identity, our humanity, is measured in several different ways. We are who others perceive us, how we perceive ourselves, how we behave, what our objective status is and so on. It is the last one that we often miss in the sitting, standing and solemnity of Yom Kippur. We miss our objective status, the true nature of who we are.
Shortly after Yom Kippur, in the Torah portion of Bereishit, the eponymous first portion in the entire Torah, we are greeted with some important and happy news. We are, the Torah says, made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. We are not just flesh and fluid, there is something almost intangible within us: We are reflective of the divine. We are special just by our very nature.
This is no small news. The upshot of this message is that no matter what negative behavior we engaged in or goals we missed or even tragedies we endured (that we incorrectly sometimes attribute to ourselves) during the last year, the Torah cycle begins again by reminding us that we remain now and forever imbued with the divinity that reflects the wholeness of God’s being.
We are far more than we seem to be and often believe ourselves to be.
In the aftermath of Yom Kippur, when we have the most clarity as to the gap between our true nature and how we have lived in the past year, we can easily become discouraged. Alternatively, we can squeeze out our self-loathing by dismissing the fact that we have missed the mark in the last year … or ever.
Self-diminishment, dwelling on our mistakes, or propping ourselves up through self-aggrandizement — none of these by themselves are reflective of who we are and certainly, we cannot hope to make the year to come a better, more healthy, divine year.
To shrink the gap between the beauty of our true nature and who we are in our head and how we behave in the world, we must see ourselves and our world more clearly.
As we begin the year, let us aim for where we want to be and then build ourselves and our lives to meet that goal. Yom Kippur is the spiritual workout we need in order to climb the mountain of the year to come.
And, let’s not forget that without the reality of our being b’tzelem Elohim, our being made in the image of God, there would be no point in engaging the spiritual therapy of Yom Kippur. We may be broken a bit by facing who we have been portraying in the last year, but we have the ability to become someone far greater than who we have been of late.
Just keep reminding yourself: I am made for the world and the world was made for me. With this positive attitude, we cannot help but start off in the right direction and make it to a higher place in the coming year.
L’shanah tovah tikateivu — may we be written for a good year … and let us remember that we have some control over the pen!
Rabbi Gerald R. Fox is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Brigantine, N.J. He also serves as the president of the South Jersey Board of Rabbis and Cantors. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide the Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent.