One of the toughest things about Yom Kippur is remembering last year’s broken resolutions. You know the experience I’m talking about. You’re standing in shul, thinking about the 801 times you lost your patience, wasted time on your phone, or stayed home doing nothing useful. Instead of meditating, working out, budget planning, volunteering, building something with the kids, or basically any of the other useful, aspirational goals you set for yourself, you goofed. It’s really tough to not feel like Yom Kippur isn’t a little bit of a beat down about all the things that went wrong. What is so blessed about starving all day and feeling bad about your blunders? What if this year could be different? What if you didn’t have to take on 801 tasks to be able to feel the lightness of forgiveness?
In the field of psychology, Dr. Becky Bailey, creator of Conscious Discipline, a teaching technique that is popular at Jewish schools in DFW, likes to help teachers learn to be kinder to their students, but she starts by teaching instructors to first be kind to themselves. Her position is that you can’t give to others what you, yourself, have not received. In one of her books, she even goes so far as to retell the story of why Mahatma Ghandi renounced sugar. He first had to teach himself to not eat sugar before he could ask a young child to give up the substance. He spent months of imperfect practice until he could declare himself ready to teach the lesson to others. Turns out that the way we treat ourselves, the way we talk to ourselves, the expectations we have for ourselves, and the respect or lack of respect we bestow on ourselves has a huge impact on the way we treat our loved ones. According to Dr. Bailey, one of the ways to improve our patience and compassion for others is to develop patience and compassion for ourselves and to just keep practicing even if we repeatedly mess up. We need to be gentler on ourselves when we inevitably miss the mark. And then, we need to try again.
What this doesn’t mean is giving up goals and limits. I remember one year I set a goal of writing down one thing I felt thankful for each day. Of course, I forgot to write notes some days, but other days, I had so much to feel thankful for that I threw three or four gratitude notes in the jar. Furthermore, I found it difficult to write something thankful on challenging days, but just sitting down to write those notes made such a difference in how I felt every day. Instead of beating myself up about what went wrong, I actively stopped to consider the many things that went right. Just this one small, daily act made a big difference in my outlook and probably how my year went.
Although the rituals of Yom Kippur ask us to recall the ways that we have erred, what’s more important is that it gives us the opportunity to grow through kindness and forgiveness, both to ourselves and to others. Yom Kippur is a day set aside just for accepting forgiveness from a power greater than ourselves even if we feel less than perfect most of the time. The communal recitation of sins shows that everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of being human. Finally, the most powerful experiences of Yom Kippur, imagining the gates of Heaven closing and hearing the final redemptive call of the shofar is the spiritual sign that we all deserve kindness and compassion this year and every year. And sometimes, we need a greater power to remind us to let go of that nagging voice and to just accept redemption.
There are many reasons why Yom Kippur tends to be the day of highest attendance at most shuls, and the lightness of being blessed by another chance and a fresh outlook are probably the biggest part of that. I hope your fast is easy and the honey cake extra sweet this year, and remember to join us at Yom Kippur services at Congregation Kol Ami.