Sorry for not writing earlier. I went to see my mom in LA in between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. She no longer recognizes me and once out of her sight, she has forgotten I was even there. But it was a good trip, partially because it makes me feel good to visit my mom. But the highlight of the trip for me was a Sunday afternoon that I spent volunteering with the Beth Jacob Congregation for Food on Foot, an organization that helps the homeless. And the highlight of the whole afternoon, was the success stories of the homeless who now have a home . About lives rebuilt. About being empowered to change. No better way to enter the day of Yom Kippur than hearing stories about the possibility of change.
For many many years, I had stopped believing in change. There were behaviors that I tried to change year after year. Behaviors that I was not proud of. And I failed year after year. I longed for new beginnings so I could leave the life I was ashamed of and start anew. For me Yom Kippur was always a day of possibilities, of new beginnings, a day in which I could leave behind my old shame-filled life and start a new life unencumbered by shame and guilt. But it was never to be. I would recite the last paragraph of the viduy in the Amidah, taken from the confession of Rav Hamnuna in the Talmud: “I am dust in my lifetime even more so in my death. I am here before you as a vessel filled with shame and confusion.” And as my cheeks burned with guilt and shame I would hope that this year would be the year of transformation. But change would elude me.
I now realize that the road of shame and guilt does not lead to change. I no longer believe we can effect change by believing we are broken shards and dried up leaves, by feeling powerless and insubstantial.
Today I have begun to believe in change again. Change which is brought on via empowerment not self negation. Which is why I loved hearing those stories of empowerment in that LA Parking lot which only strengthened my belief. And slowly I have started to empower myself and am changing. Real change. And this is why I feel that the Yom Kippur Liturgy misses the point for most of us. It is not our over-weening pride that leads us down the path of sin but our feelings of worthlessness. True change is achieved via empowerment not self-degradation. Teshuva is the return to our essence which is the belief in ourselves as a creature of endless possibilities. “Great is Teshuva for it raises us up to the Heavenly Throne” (Yoma 86.)