No one, because the Jewish Tradition is a proper guide to a good life and self-improvement
The Jewish New Year has started, and Yom Kippur is around the corner. What do we mean by promising personal improvements to merit life and prosperity, happiness and health, etc.?
The way to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Classical Christianity takes its critique of Judaism even further: “Jewish Law asks the impossible of mortal humans. It sets goals that can’t be met.” So, it did away with prescripts and advises to love someone who was a superhuman and the only one ever able to reach such perfection.
I wouldn’t be an Orthodox Jew if I hadn’t found solutions to that.
I heard recently from Rabbi Lubin that, first of all, we need to renew our vows once a year. Just like happy couples sometimes do after decades. It was a good journey, but it needs finetuning and renewal. We take upon ourselves all the Commandments anew without any ifs or buts.
But then, we need to be realists. Let’s look at where we are holding in each and every detail the Jewish Tradition prescribes. And on every issue, we should make a tiny improvement. Really small. We need to stay under the radar of the Evil Inclination. Just like the latter says: “What’s one more cigarette?” (twenty times a day), bypassing the Good Inclination, we’ll say: What’s just one time saying the Shema’ in a lifetime? This minute change does two things.
It breaks through stagnation and habit.
And it allows us to make “just one more” minuscule next adjustment for the good.
And then a subsequent one. Etcetera.
But, many improvements we make for the High Holidays we undertake without any promise to maintain them. We may even be certain to abandon them as soon as the Holidays are over.
And, anyway, things will deteriorate. Forget about keeping up with the Jones (or the Cohens). Keeping up with our Good Inclination is already a real job—an impossible job.
And we weren’t ever perfect, so even if we’d stay steady, what credit will we create?
Once a month, we have a small Yom Kippur. Every evening before retiring, we say we’ll do better from now on. And still, we stay flawed all our lives. Are Christians right then?
And then our argument with Classical Christianity comes in. Most of us will never reach perfection, but we’re constantly trying to get there. And trying makes all the difference.
As Rabbi Cardozo said, many years ago, at a Shabbat Shuvah Sermon in Har Nof: Jews could never perpetrate a holocaust. That could only be brought about by people who heard all their lives for dozens of generations that they’re no good, unfit, failures, ungodly.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach says it like this. The whole world is one giant hospital. We’re all here for healing. When you claim to be perfect, you’d better write your last will because the next day you’ll be dead, since the purpose of you being here will have ended.
May all Jews and all of humanity—for whom we pray too—have a fantastic new year.
My friend Rabbi Cardozo’s work can be supported here.