Elul Reflections: 24 Elul 5777

There can be no doubt that each of us, always, can find ways to become a better person.

As Jews, we take it for granted that this is a worthwhile goal, and one which we continually pursue, and make progress towards, but never complete.

We see the bigger picture, that the better I am, the better is the world in which I live, whether or not it's obvious in my daily life.

I'm not talking about learning another language or taking up a new hobby. I'm not talking about finding a better-paying job that allows me to live in a nicer home or see more of the world. These may well improve us, and they may well be worthwhile and appropriate goals. But they are not enough.

What I'm talking about is finding finding the strength of will, the patience, the determination, to behave with greater moral courage.

I'm talking about being willing to treat those around us with more kindness, to be more compassionate to the downtrodden, to denounce acts of oppression and cruelty, to act in ways that create more peace in our homes, in our workplaces, even between countries.

I'm talking about being willing to stand up, and keep standing up, against injustice.

I'm talking about being willing to make our voices heard when we find a wrong that needs putting right.

I'm talking about ways to make our lives a beacon of righteousness.

We know it's not easy to do this. We know that we are prone to backsliding, to giving way to less noble priorities.

Pirkei Avot teaches us a principle that I think perfectly captures the balance we need to find between acting for our own needs and acting for the needs of others: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself only, what am I? If not now, when?

This teaches us that while we should certainly look to our own self-interest, we must also look beyond it. Sometimes that even means doing things that would appear to be counter to our own self-interest. 

Our earliest teachers knew what the experience of all the generations since has continued to teach us: our lives can make a huge difference, if we will find the strength to make it happen. 

Let us go forward into 5778 with the earnest desire to make such a difference. 

--Cantor David Bentley


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