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MAYIM BIALIK: 10 mea culpas for Rosh Hashanah

I plan to use this holiday season for contemplation, devotion and rededication to what matters most to me: my health, my children’s well-being, my heart, my healing
Mayim Bialik, on her personal teshuvah before Rosh Hashanah. (Birdie Thompson/Getty Images)
Mayim Bialik, on her personal teshuvah before Rosh Hashanah. (Birdie Thompson/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — In the Reform synagogue I was raised in, they taught us a song around the Jewish New Year:

Let’s be friends. Make amends. Now’s the time to say I’m sorry.
Let’s be friends. Make amends. Please say you’ll forgive me.
For the 10 days of teshuvah, it’s time to make up; time to pray.
Take my hand and I’ll take yours. Let’s be friends for always.

Those 10 days of teshuvah, the period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur set aside for reflection and personal growth, were always somewhat brushed over for most of my life, not because my parents did not enforce them, but rather because the concept was foreign to us.

Although I could read and write in Hebrew, I did not speak Hebrew and much of the liturgy I recited was memorized and regurgitated by rote; it had no real meaning. There was no notion that anything happened between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, except planning the menu for the Yom Kippur break-fast.

In college, I began my immersion in traditional Judaism through the wisdom and guidance of Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA Hillel and my own personal teshuvah, as it were. I embraced Jewish living and became a member of the Baalei Teshuvah — the “owners” of return, literally, a figurative term for those of us who take on traditional Jewish life but were not raised in it.

Among the myriad halachic explorations and practical lessons I undertook as a newly observant person, I learned more about the Jewish New Year and what these holy days are actually about. The days of teshuvah are the time between The Book of Life being written by God and the book being sealed for the year. As the liturgy says, “On Rosh Hashanah, it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.”

And, the liturgy continues, one of the three paths to being sealed is teshuvah. The other two, just because I know you’re wondering, are prayer and acts of righteous charity.

It has been over 20 years since I took on traditional Judaism, and every year, things become clearer to me. Teshuvah this year feels especially important, as I enter this holiday after vocal cord surgery which has left me speechless for going on two weeks, as we enter into Rosh Hashanah. As I have found silence, room has been made for much reflection, which I feel ready to put down on paper, as it were.

Here is my teshuvah as we enter 5780:

1. My voice. 

My father (z”l) died four and a half years ago, and I remember what it was like to watch his soul exist in his body and then for his body to cease holding his soul. I knew then with definite certainty that our bodies are simply delicate vessels.

I have not always been kind to my body, and being a workaholic has taken its toll on my voice. While I may have been born with a congenital predisposition for the troubles I have, misuse of my voice is also a factor. There are technical speech pathology terms for how I misuse my voice, but the holistic hippie in me knows the truth: I have gossiped. I have slandered. I have complained when I should have been grateful. I have agreed to things I did not want to do. I have not spoken up when injustice was being done.

I have overused and misused my voice. I hope my voice can forgive me.

2. My friends.

As I recalibrate when and how to use my voice, I have not been able to keep up many relationships I once kept up with. The healing process is extensive for this kind of surgery, and I have had to commit and dedicate myself to putting my voice and my body first. I know this has caused a shift in many relationships I have.

I hope these friends can forgive me.

3. The public.

As part of my job, I have a large social media following, which I am proud of, for what it allows me to accomplish as a writer, actor and human being. In this time of healing, I have not done the same kind of spontaneous posting I am somewhat known for, and have stringently limited my time online and my participation in social media.

This may sound like a celebrity first world problem, but I hope my online community can forgive me.

4. My co-workers. 

This past year has seen a lot of changes in my professional life. I closed down my website and shifted my life to focusing on what happens after “The Big Bang Theory.” I have never felt equipped or competent to manage human beings. I always feel bad about having to set rules and I don’t think I am particularly adept at it. I sometimes acted with arrogance and with impulsivity, sometimes used an angry voice when I should have taken a breath. I had to say goodbye to people who gave me years of their life working with me.

I hope my co-workers can forgive me.

5. My family. 

I wrote a screenplay the year after my father died called “As Sick As They Made Us,” and we are in the process of financing the film to see if I can direct it this coming year.

It is not a memoir, but there are elements of truth throughout the script which may feel like a personal attack to many in my family. I believe it is my artistic right to create stories and it is my personal right to share stories, even complex and painful ones, that I feel can be helpful to others.

If members of my family feel personally attacked, I hope they can forgive me.

6. My children. 

For some reason, it took me 43 years to come to some of the awakenings I have come to this past year. I have seen how deeply my children have been affected by my choices. I have watched them learn to manage an emotional mother, a famous mother, a mother recovering from surgery, a mother recovering from divorce, a mother nursing a broken heart.

Every time I put someone else’s needs before mine, I was putting that person’s needs ahead of my kids’. I thought I was such a present mother, and in many ways, I was. But when my attention was drawn away from myself, it was drawn away from them. Every time I lost patience with them, it was typically because I had given it to someone else before them.

My children are the proof I am supposed to be here and I have squandered time and energy away from them. I hope they can forgive me.

7. Those closest to me. 

There are a few people who I credit with my career, my sanity and my heart — and I have often been a heavy burden on them. A few people – I shudder to realize they are all men – have borne the brunt of my heavy heart, my late night musings and my grief. These men have been patient and kind and loving, but I also know that I seek to be a better friend to them by not constantly placing my heavy heart into theirs.

I hope they can forgive me.

8. My father. 

Abba, I still do not forgive you for leaving. And I also know it was time. And I also regret deeply that I never saw you as anything but my Abba.

With some distance from your passing, I see more clearly the struggles you had as a man. As a person, teacher and artist. You endured so much in your life before me and I only saw you from the lens of what you did to me, for me and what I could hold you responsible for.

You were just a man; not a god, not my God. How many times did I force you into that role? I hope you can forgive me, Abba.

9. God. 

For all of these things, I hope you can forgive me, God. For the alphabet of things I will beat my chest about for days in synagogue, forgive me.

Every day, I wake up grateful to do Your work, and minutes later — sometimes seconds later — I squander it. I give You my will and then I take it back. I doubt Your path for me and I doubt Your timing. I lose patience. I am lonely. I am desperate. I am despondent. I suffer.
And I forget how to remember You. You have never left me — not once — and for all of these sins and more, forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

There are nine things on this list, but there are 10 days of Teshuvah.

The 10th is for the mystery of this life. For the things I do not yet know to return to and from. The elusive fog of possibility for my continuing potential to get this life wrong.

This Rosh Hashanah, I plan to look at those holy days as the start of a 10-day period of contemplation, devotion and rededication to what matters most to me: My health. My children’s well-being. My heart. My healing. And perhaps some closure of the liturgical variety which feels like the closure of a psychological nature.

Give me one more year, God. Give me one more year to try and get this right. And every year let me come closer and closer; to those closest to me, myself and maybe even to a taste of the World to Come; a taste of the return to You.

Let’s be friends for always.

About the Author
Mayim Bialik is a four time Emmy nominated actress, NY Times bestselling author and neuroscientist. She lives in Los Angeles with her two sons and four cats.
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