How Holy Are You?

When I was 8-years-old, I thought it would be fun to decorate Raggedy Ann’s face with lipstick. I don’t completely remember why. Maybe it was to make her up as a clown. Maybe it was just to see what would happen if her face was red… Because at the end, her whole face was red, not just her lips.

It was my sister’s Raggedy Ann doll. Again, I don’t remember why I did it, but I am sure there was no malicious intent; I just had an idea for something that I thought would be fun. And it was fun — until my sister saw it and started crying. The lipstick couldn’t be washed off, and her Raggedy Ann was ruined.

The event is hazy, but the memory of that feeling isn’t. I remember feeling sad, feeling bad. I’d made a mistake and she was paying the price, and so was I. But looking back on it as an adult, I can see clearly: I was acting like a child. Which, given the fact that I was a child, was completely appropriate.

All these years later, I still remember it, though.

One of the three central themes in the Rosh Hashana Amidah prayer is zichronot, or remembering/memories. In this section, it’s written that God remembers everything. God remembers creating the world, God remembered Noah, God remembers our forefathers and the covenant with them… and on, and on, and on. Since God remembers everything, it’s too much to write out.

Also since God remembers everything, God remembers that brownie you ate last week when you said you weren’t going to have any more sweets. And God remembers when you cut the bus driver off in traffic, thinking that it was more important that you get where you were going a little earlier. God remembers when you were impatient with your co-worker and short tempered with your loved one. God remembers everything.

Before I tell you what, to me, is one of the most important things that God remembers, I want to ask you this question:


I do. And I’m sorry. And I’m actively trying to do better. While all those things are true, and should remain true, I am also having self-compassion. I know that even though I’m not 8 with my sister’s doll, making mistakes is a part of adulthood, too. It’s okay to make mistakes as a child, and it’s okay to make mistakes as an adult. When thinking about this, I remember a specific sentence that God said. Since God remembers everything,  I’m sure God remembers this:

K’doshim t’hiyu ki kadosh Ani. You will be holy, because I am holy.

At the end of the day, or the end of the year, it is not the number of good deeds that I do that make me holy. There is no complex formula: Do A,B,C… do all the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah, and then you will be holy. No, I am not holy only when I’m doing the “right” thing. I can mess everything up, do everything wrong, and still be holy. Because the definition of my holiness is this: I am holy, because God is holy.

You are holy, because God is holy.

God remembers that.

As we approach Yom Kippur, and reflect on the previous year and ask forgiveness — first from people, then from God — for what we’ve done wrong, I challenge you to do so with self-compassion. Just like I was acting like a child with the lipstick and Raggedy Ann, when we made our mistakes this past year, we were acting like a human. And whatever those mistakes were, we are still beautiful and amazing and holy. We are holy, because God is holy.

And as you learn from and let go of last year’s mistakes, I challenge you to step foot into the new year in a way that befits someone as holy as you are.

Shana Tova, Happy New Year

About the Author
Esther Goldenberg is the author of several books, including the forthcoming three novels of biblical fiction: The Scrolls of Deborah, Seventeen Spoons, and The Song of the Bluebird. When she’s not going for early morning walks in her beautiful neighborhood in northern Israel, or taking drumming classes, she can be found bombarding her son and daughter with questions about their thoughts on ancient Egypt. To get previews of the books or to be notified when they're are available, sign up at
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