William Hamilton

Yes, you are better

Most of us associate confessing with things we’ve done wrong. But there is one confession formula that’s exclusively for things we’ve done right. 

In this week’s portion of Torah, we’re taught to publicly confess, after bringing the First Fruits offering: “I haven’t neglected your commandments. I’ve listened to your voice and done what you’ve expected of me” (Deut. 26:13-14).   

It was historically connected to the First Fruits of your harvest, but today can relate to the best of what you have to offer. Of course, it expresses gratitude. But it’s also about self-esteem. It says, “I’ve done some good things, and I’m grateful to keep serving the needs of others.”  It reclaims your better days, when you gave a boost to someone who needed it. This too you ought to confess. And it couldn’t come at a better time of the year.

Readying ourselves for the New Year can be hard work. We tend to be tough on ourselves, particularly with mistakes we continue to make. It’s vital to keep believing in yourself. It’s so easy to get down on yourself when you keep struggling to repent for the same thing year after year. Our sages teach in Pirke Avot (2:18), “Don’t see yourself as bad in your own eyes.” 

Colin Campbell recently wrote in his exceptional new book,“I can let those thoughts of self-judgment occur but then pass on by.” How can you get them to pass on by? This confession is a good start.   

It’s also interesting that this ritual comes just prior to one of the Torah’s most punishing passages. It foretells the demise that can follow a failure to heed its laws. Our sacred texts aren’t naive about willful people. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Severity must tame those whom love cannot win.” 

Speaking of love, this weekend is a singularly precious moment in the life of my family. Our daughter Avital will marry her beloved Justin this Sunday. As a couple, they are in good company with those who consistently help those around them feel better about themselves.

To be clear about this confession ritual, it isn’t trying to boost your self-esteem as a way of talking yourself into things. It’s instead about keeping yourself from talking yourself out of things. 

May this season of confession lift your belief in what’s possible for you in the year to come.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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