Yom Kippur is a tricky day for me. If you’re curious about what this holiday means and what kind of energy it has, you should definitely check out Andrea’s amazing videos from last year and this year, which are full of inspiration and detail and provide some great food for thought. These are Jewish ideas, but really they’re about personal growth, relevant to everyone. And in a world where we’re constantly bombarded by materialism, gossip, and advertising, where we’re constantly being told that fame and money are the only real definitions of success… personal growth has never been harder.
I didn’t grow up religious and the idea of a season of judgement at the beginning of each year, where G-d reviews everyone’s actions, never sat well with me. It wasn’t that I thought I should be able to get away with doing whatever I wanted, it was just the idea of G-d as this Santa-Claus-like entity dealing out promotions or tragedies like presents or coal into a kid’s stocking. What kind of a concept was that?
I understand where my frustration was coming from, but of course I was getting a lot of things wrong. I have a bit more perspective now about what’s going on at this time of year, and how I can relate to it in a way that makes sense.
As little kids, we never hesitate to ask for a “do-over” when we try something and it goes wrong the first time. If we fall off the bike, we don’t assume we’ll never learn how to ride it. We just cry about it, wash off the scrapes, and then eventually get back on. As adults, sometimes we lose this sense of confidence and control over our actions. We become more passive. If we try something and fail, we start to think that maybe it’s not for us. If we have a rough time in a relationship, it doesn’t take long before we consider breaking up. If we don’t get the job we were hoping for, we start to think we might not have what it takes to make it in that field.
This passivity is a creeping disease. We put ourselves in danger of never finding out our true potential in life, of never becoming the person that we want to be.
The purpose of Yom Kippur, and the days leading up to it, is to prevent that. The practice that some people have of wearing white for the holiday alludes to this. The white represents a blank slate. A reset button. A “do-over.” It’s not about sitting there waiting for G-d to dole out our fate for next year. That’s the passive version, and it’s completely wrong. This is an active time. It’s a time to figure out the difference between the trajectory we’re currently on, and the trajectory that will actually take us where we want to go in life. It’s about taking tiny little steps, but in a new and better direction. And then when we reach Yom Kippur, we can confidently say: I’m hitting “re-set.” I’m not the same person anymore; I’m a person that’s headed for different and more fulfilling things. I’m accepting responsibility for all the mistakes I made, but deciding not to define myself by those mistakes. I’m going forward, so please send me new challenges that will teach me to be active rather than passive. Send me the learning experiences I will need in order to become the best version of myself.
Sisters in white – an outtake from Wrapunzel’s fall photoshoot
This isn’t about asking for things we want, and then waiting to see what happens. It’s about redefining ourselves, and turning into someone new, someone whose needs are different. And the reward isn’t a promotion, or a new house, or a winning lottery ticket – that’s not the way G-d works. The reward for personal growth is a new set of circumstances: not ones that will make our lives easier, but ones that will give our lives meaning.
May we all have the strength to take that first tiny step on our new trajectory.