How can we gather the courage to confront ourselves honestly and compassionately so that we can somehow realize a fresh start?
The holiest day of the Jewish year and the culmination of a season of self-reflection. Jews fast, abstain from other worldly pleasures, and gather in prayers that last throughout the day. Following Ne'ilah, the final prayers, during which Jews envision the Gates of Repentance closing, the shofar is sounded in one long blast to conclude the holy day. It is customary to begin building one's sukkah as soon as the day ends. is an opportunity to begin anew. In preparing for this high point on the Jewish calendar, we are instructed to take a “soul inventory,” first examining how we’ve treated others, and then looking inside at our behavior toward ourselves. If we have offended someone else, Jewish tradition requires us to ask for forgiveness, and, indeed, forgiving and being forgiven can truly heal both people and the relationship. Though admitting to wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness from others might be difficult, the task of looking at how we treat ourselves can be even more daunting and scary.
As a clinical psychologist and therapist, I’ve spent many hours thinking about this question: how do we genuinely forgive ourselves for what I will call self-injurious behaviors – perfectionism, excesses of food and drink, anxiety and the like? These tendencies feel so ingrained, and so resistant to change. Yet, if we are created “b’tzelem Elohim” – in the Divine image, then if we don’t take good care of ourselves, it follows that we are damaging the Divine. How can we gather the courage to confront ourselves honestly and compassionately so that we can somehow realize a fresh start?
I believe that one key can be found in accepting the idea that we are imperfect by nature and are born into circumstances beyond our control. We can only control our own behavior, and are in a continuous struggle between the yetzer ha’tov and the yetzer ha’ra – our good and bad impulses. Compound this with the influences of our families, which impact us in both good and not-so-good ways, and some of the behaviors that result can be self-injurious.
On Yom Kippur, our liturgy includes the Yizkor service of remembrance during which we recall our relationships with those who have passed on. It’s a perfect time to think more deeply about our parents in particular, and perhaps our grandparents as well, because our capacity for forgiving ourselves can be inextricably bound to what we learned from them. In other words, if we are to forgive ourselves, we also must forgive them for what they may have passed on to us. If we can forgive them, we can also forgive ourselves. We can accept ourselves as we are – with all of our human foibles and faults. Rather than avoiding who we are, accepting ourselves helps us face our fears of not being good enough and gives us strength to try to be better.
When we engage in self-destructive behaviors, e.g., eating or drinking too much or acting out in some way, it is often in reaction to an inner experience of shame or emotional pain and a desire to avoid feeling it or to cover it over. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect and usually produces more pain and shame. When we can gather the courage to acknowledge and face our pain, we then have the opportunity to accept ourselves and our lives as they are and to make peace with ourselves.
The High Holy Day period offers us a chance to wake up to who we are and to take responsibility for ourselves. Let the closing of the gates this Yom Kippur mark the beginning of a new level of self-compassion and self-acceptance leading toward facing our fears and giving us the strength to try to be the best that we can be: truly Divine creations. But rather than viewing this as an annual event, maybe it’s really a daily undertaking, with each small step in self-awareness a milestone along life’s path.
Lisa Braun Glazer deeply believes that our lives and our world can be infinitely enriched by the wisdom and beauty contained in Jewish ritual and thought.
Her Jewish education began at a Conservadox synagogue in the Midwest and then picked up again when she was 40. She studied Hebrew for two years at UCSD, participated in the Union for Reform Judaism summer program at UC Santa Cruz for 10 years and completed the intensive 18-month Kivvun program of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. At her synagogue, Congregation Beth Lit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. of San Diego, Lisa started Casting bread upon the water. On Rosh Hashana, Jews traditionally walk to a natural body of water into which they throw breadcrumbs, symbolic of their sins from the previous year., was a founder of the lay-led Shabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. morning The group of ten adult Jews needed to read from the Torah and to recite some of the most important communal prayers. In Orthodox communities, a quorum of ten men is traditionally required. Today, most liberal Jewish communities count all Jewish adults as part of a minyan. service, and started three-generation participatory family High Holy Day services and edited its machzor. Lisa served on the North American Board of the URJ for eight years, including co-chairing a tri-partite commission on rabbinic burnout.
Lisa is a licensed clinical psychologist. Now retired, she practiced in La Jolla, Ca., for over 30 years and taught at the UCSD School of Medicine. She lives in La Jolla with her husband of 40 years, and has two married daughters and five adorable little grandchildren.
She has been actively engaged as an artist for most of her adult life. Lisa loves doing Hebrew calligraphy and works primarily in the medium of clay. She loves to swim, ski and travel. She currently serves as a trustee of the Institute for Shipboard Education which runs the Semester at Sea program, and devotes her volunteer efforts and philanthropy to saving the big The ritual bath. The waters of the mikveh symbolically purify – they are seen as waters of rebirth. A convert immerses in the mikveh as part of conversion. Many Orthodox married women go to the mikveh following their period and before resuming sexual relations. Couples go to the mikveh before being married. Many, including some men, immerse before Yom Kippur; some go every Friday before Shabbat. – the ocean, which sustains all life.