In the course of life, there are always moments of pivot. A moment when we recognize that we have strayed from the proper path, and we pivot—reverse course and head in the opposite direction. The moment of pivot is, at the risk of sounding cliché, pivotal. It isn’t merely a moment of reversal; it is a moment that injects power and intensity into our gait.
We might have been plodding along before, but the moment we notice that we were plodding in the wrong direction, we pivot and rush to make up for lost time. The power and intensity of the pivot make it a pivotal critical moment.
A Month of Reckoning
This week, we wrap up the month of Av and prepare to usher in the month of Elul, the final month of the Hebrew calendar year. Elul is a month of introspection and reckoning. We think back on the past year and identify all our inappropriate behaviors. We don’t usually set out to behave inappropriately. We stray into it without realizing. The month of Elul is set aside to sift through all our behaviors and identify the ones that require a pivot.
Suppose you realize that you have become so engrossed in your work that you rarely make time for your children. You never intended to distance them from you, and you didn’t even notice that this was going on. But the truth is that they have begun to feel less and less attached to you. They see you are a remote figure.
In fact, your distance has even caused them unintentional harm. They have begun to question and even blame themselves for your distance. They have been suffering from low self esteem and insecurity in your presence and now avoid you whenever possible.
You never set out to hurt them G-d forbid. You love them to bits. But without realizing it, you caused them unnecessary tension, angst, and even shame. You simply didn’t realize.
When you reflect on your behavior and notice this subtle change, you identify it as something from which you must pivot. You acknowledge that such behavior is hurtful to your children, and you cease your preoccupation with work even if it feels harmless and constructive at the moment.
But it is not enough to simply stop, pivot, and restart. The nature of the pivot is that our remorse and disappointment drive us to invest more into the relationship than we might otherwise have done. We go out of our way to be kind to our children, to acknowledge that we were wrong, that we were unintentionally hurtful, and we pledge to cherish them going forward. Indeed, the internal shame is so painful that we are motivated to never repeat our failures again.
Moreover, because our behavior caused our children to feel distanced from us, we go out of our way to make up for lost time. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Now that we identified and acknowledged the distance, our love is awakened with greater intensity than ever before.
Two Forms of Return
This tells us that repentance entails two forms of return. The first is to turn away from negative and harmful behavior and return to positive and healthy behavior. The second is to return to love—to the depth of the relationship. We recognize that every negative action takes an emotional toll on someone. Acknowledging our negative behavior also means taking responsibility for the emotional injury we caused. It means not only to salvage the relationship, but also to make it shine.
It is in this second form of return that we can salvage something from our mistakes. The first form of return is simply to cease and desist. From that perspective, it would have been better had we never engaged in the harmful behavior in the first place. The fact that we stopped doesn’t erase the damage that we caused.
The second form of return enables us to salvage something from our negative behavior. The fact is that harmful behavior is never good. Negative is negative and must be avoided at all costs. But once we engaged in negative behavior, an opportunity arises that was not available before.
Had we never engaged in harmful behavior with our children, our relationship would have been intact, but lackluster. We would play with them, do their homework with them, and tuck them in at night, but all without passion and attention. We would chat on the phone occasionally with our grown children, but it would have been routine. Now that we have neglected them, we feel so bad about it that we make sure to be fully present when we are with them.
Going forward, we cherish every moment and truly pay attention when they talk to us. We look deeply into their eyes and listen with complete focus. We smile at them and show them our love and they feel so much better about themselves.
It is true that we put them through the wringer before bringing them back to this blissful place, and that was never okay. But in retrospect, we can be grateful that we transformed it into an opportunity and utilized it. Looking back, the moment that we made the pivot was the most pivotal moment in our relationship. It transformed our relationship with our children in ways that we could have never foreseen.
The Divine Spark
As it is between us and our children, so it is between us and G-d—our father in heaven. There are many behaviors that betray our father in heaven; dash His hopes and dreams for us. These are terrible behaviors and should be avoided at all costs. But let us remember that it is G-d who created us and made such behaviors possible.
Take slander as an example. G-d could have created a world without slander. It was G-d who created the potential and the human desire for slander. Why did He do that? Moreover, everything that G-d created, He created so that it could serve Him. How can slander serve G-d?
The first answer is that G-d created slander to give us something to avoid. If we have a choice to commit a sin and don’t, we get credit for overcoming temptation. We serve G-d through slander by avoiding it.
That is all fine and good so long as we avoid slander, but what if we engage in it? How can slander serve G-d now that we have failed to avoid it and have, in fact, enjoyed it?
The answer is by pivoting away from slander and turning it into a pivotal moment in our lives. Slander is never okay, but in retrospect it can transform us into much more respectful people than we might ever have been without it. This transformation arises from the pivot, which is what makes it is such a pivotal moment.
May we have a pivotal month of introspection, retrospection, and pivot.