As a sequel to my post last week on Rosh Hashanah Reflections, I decided this week to write a checklist for Yom Kippur (and it’s not about worrying what to eat before the fast).
You have to conquer your past to face your future.
We all have a past, and we all carry baggage, which means we all have our problems to deal with as well as our sins to account for. As we learn, even Moshe Rebbeinu, who gave Hashem’s Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, sinned in his lifetime. Or as my dear father, Fred Blumenthal (זצ״ל), used to say more broadly about humankind:
There are no angels in this world.
The key, especially during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is accepting responsibility. While a lot of people like to blame their childhood, parents, teachers, socio-economic conditions, or other life circumstances for why they are the way they are, what we must actually do is courageously face our past, demons and all, and proceed to take ownership of our lives. Yes, the past affects us and challenges us, but as they say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and we need to strive to achieve our potential today and tomorrow, regardless of our history.
You can’t pay lip service to how you treat others.
Some weeks ago, I was talking with my wife about someone we know who, frankly, doesn’t come across as a very nice person to others, even though they act outwardly as religious. Frustrated with the hypocrisy, I blurted out to my wife:
For someone who spends all their time sinning, do you think two brachas are going to make up for it?
The point isn’t to diminish the importance of brachot or of building our relationship with G-d, but rather, at the same time, to acknowledge that you can’t be a genuinely “religious” G-dly person if you treat others horribly. Honoring Hashem and treating other people, G-d’s children, well—these go hand-in-hand.
It’s important to contemplate the pain of loss and suffering.
Unfortunately, after Adam and Eve ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, humankind was expelled from the Garden of Eden, paradise itself. In the world where we now reside, we know that, unfortunately, there is suffering and loss. Whether it’s the pain of childbirth or the daily toiling to earn our bread as G-d decreed (Genesis 3:16–19), we must face an often harsh reality of tests and tribulations.
Part of the challenge for humankind involves experiencing the pain of loss (may Hashem have mercy on us). Recently, a relative sent me a very profound saying about this:
When you lose your money, you lose nothing. When you lose your health, you lose something. When you lose your character, you lose everything.
I think this is worth pondering for a few moments as we consider before Yom Kippur the need to change our ways and make improvements in our character, relationships, and lives.
You should measure your life with good deeds.
While, of course, we all wish to have a long and healthy life, there is the age-old question about the righteous who suffer and the wicked who seem to prosper. For example, why are some good people’s lives unfortunately cut short while some evil people seem to live on and prosper? While ultimately mortal man cannot fathom G-d’s ways and we can never explain away the loss of a loved one, it may be helpful to at least consider this:
Measure life by deeds, not years.
Perhaps some people can accomplish more good in a short time than others can in a long life. If we measure a person’s life not by how long they live but by what they do with their precious moments in life, then maybe we can see our lives more in terms of outcomes in meeting our potential rather than purely as time present. Of course, we want to have more time, but whatever time we are granted, we should make the most of it.
Pray to Hashem for His mercy every day.
As we head into Yom Kippur and hopefully G-d seals us in the Book of Life for the New Year, we need to realize that G-d has a plan for us, or as they say, “G-d owns while we rent!”
I’ll end with a quote from Rabbi Ari Soussan, who wisely said last week:
There is no coincidence in life; coincidence is G-d saying hi!
While we must do our very best to take stock of our lives and to continuously improve ourselves, at the same time, we must pray to G-d for a year of His merciful hellos and to shine His light, love, and holiness on us every moment of every blessed day.