Elul Reflections: 13 Elul 5777

We approach the Days of Awe with a sense that can often seem more depressing than awe-inspiring. Asking ourselves what mistakes we have made, what we have done poorly in the past year, what needs improvement, is perhaps less gratifying than reminding ourselves that we have, too, made remarkable achievements and enjoyed notable successes.

The tendency to seek out within ourselves that which must be improved is a very Jewish expression of our national obsession with Tikkun Olam. For two thousand years the prophets have called on us to be the best that we can be. We well know that the world becomes a better place when we are better agents of change within the world.

Yet can we dwell on what needs improvement, without also reflecting on what we have done well? Should we neglect to acknowledge, celebrate, and build on our strengths? It seems to be that to neglect them is, in itself, a failing.

The liturgy of the High Holy Days features, amongst other motifs, that of Teshuvah, “Repentance” or, more literally, “Return”. We talk of returning to the paths of righteousness.

That Return must surely involve not only abandoning wrongdoing, of resisting the yetzer harah, the urge to wickedness. That is only half the picture. The other half is embracing the yetzer hatov, the urge to to good. We should not neglect to do even more of that which we already do well.

As we undergo the annual process of deep introspection let us reflect not only on what we wish to improve within ourselves. Let us also reflect on those parts of us that are already the best of us, and which already lead us to do our holy work within our own lives and within the world at large.

--Cantor David Bentley


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