Timing is everything.
Israel just held the second of its two national elections this year and this one, like the first one, basically ended in a tie. Which leads me to have a lot to say about Israel’s dysfunctional, insane political system, which does so much to increase and emphasize divisions in the country, so much pits one kind of Jew against another, so much leads to corrupt wheeling, dealing, backstabbing, betraying and generally not the kind of behavior one would like to see in the world’s only Jewish country.
It also highlights the very core, fundamental issues that are not being addressed in anything resembling a constructive way but which are being swept aside on the one hand and getting worse on the other hand.
But the thing is that Rosh Hashanah is coming soon so I can’t really devote a column to my take on the election that was and on the bargaining that is and asking questions about it all. Which Benjamin will be prime minister, the one they call Bibi or the one they call Benny? Will Netanyahu get indicted before or after he does or does not take office? Can the two major parties figure out some way to come up with a national unity government in a nation that is very not unified? Will there, wait for it, actually have to be a third election and if there is, what’s to make anyone believe it will result in anything clearer than the first two? And what does it all mean that the Jewish state can’t even elect a prime minister without stirring up the kishkes in everyone? It’s why I’ve always contended that Israel is nothing so much as a big shul.
Anyway, all that will have to wait for another time because many of us will be in shul soon for the Jewish Super Bowl, the High Holidays. Which is why I also can’t give vent to my feelings that the world is going crazy. And no, I’m not talking about Trump. I’m talking about the Israeli supermarket I was in a few days ago and when I tried to check out using the self-service cashiers, you know the ones where there’s no cashier, and was told I couldn’t because I wasn’t an Israeli citizen. What does that have to do with my trying to buy some salami, I asked. No go, they said, since you have to first enter your Israeli identity card number so “we can track what you are buying.”
What the hell? This didn’t have anything to do with Israeli security. It had everything to do with the fact that the world has become a place where we are all being tracked everywhere we go, and everything we do. You know that cell phone in your pocket, it’s telling some ones somewhere where you are at all times. And anytime you buy something online or evidently even in an Israeli supermarket, someones is keeping track so they know your tastes, what coupons to send you, how to entice you to buy stuff. Very much too big brother for me, too much ‘1984’ in 2019.
And then on top of the supermarket thing, which really gave me the creeps, I was in a city where I am usually not and so when I tried to pay my credit card bill online it wouldn’t let me. I had my username, I had my password and was using the computer I always use, but evidently the website didn’t like that I was in a city other than the one where I usually pay my credit card bill. How it knew that, I will never understand. But it did and because it did, it got suspicious that maybe it wasn’t me even if it was the same computer and even if I knew my password. And so it wanted me to go through all kinds of hoops to prove it was me, even though all I wanted to do was pay my bill. I wasn’t asking them to give me money, I was trying to give them money but they wouldn’t take it because I was in a different city and in today’s world the web world not only knew that, but didn’t like it one bit.
Anyway I don’t have time to get into that either since Rosh Hashanah is coming and I can’t be talking about how all this technology is turning us into nasty people who tweet and post really not nice things about each other because it’s so easy and anonymous and yet that very anonymity that allows us to be our worst selves somehow disappears when we are in another city or trying to buy salami and then machines know everything about us and demand to know more.
But Rosh Hashanah is almost here and that needs to be my focus. See the thing is I am not a big fan of rabbis. I basically don’t like them, think they do a great disservice to the Jewish people, are not really leaders. Sure, there are some I think highly of but not too many. And yet somehow when Rosh Hashanah rolls around and it’s time to write my pre-holiday column, I get into this mood where I feel I need to share some rabbi-like thoughts.
And so, as I have for close to 25 years now (yes, this paper’s very big anniversary is coming up soon, but again can’t get into that now) I want to share a rabbinicy thing with you.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for tshuva, for repentance, for doing a spiritual accounting, for looking back at the year just ending and identifying all the things we did we wished we hadn’t, all the ways we behaved that we are not proud of, and feel bad about them, apologize for them, seek forgiveness from those we have hurt or offended, seek forgiveness from G-d for falling short of His expectations, vowing to do better in the new Jewish year.
Sadly, too many of us as we approach the High Holiday season focus mostly on needing to buy synagogue tickets and needing to invite friends and family for meals and needing to pick out new clothes, while the most important thing of all we should doing is something most of us spend the least amount of time on.
Look, I know repenting sounds heavy. It’s kind of like exercise, you know it’s good for you, you know you’ll feel better for doing it, but it’s very hard to get started, very easy to find excuses for not going it. Being introspective and doing a self-evaluation is not something most of us are eager to do.
Which is a shame because as much as tshuva is something we do for G-d, we do it also and as much for ourselves.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all religious on you. Tshuva is not something only for those who wear black hats and white shirts. Tshuva is something all Jews can do, whatever your level of observance or belief or involvement.
It is both very simple and very hard. It involves devoting some time each day for the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and talking to yourself. And no, it’s not crazy.
I personally recommend an hour a day, but I know for most people, including me, that’s pretty intimidating. If you can do an hour great, if not how about a half hour. Still too much then 15 minutes. Come on you got 15 minutes a day to devote to making yourself a better person. Think of it like a workout for the soul. You’ll feel better after and it might well cause you to live longer.
Just sit in a quiet place and ask yourself what did I do this past year that I am not proud of, feel regret about, wish I had done differently or not at all. And then tell yourself you’re going to try to be just a teeny tiny wee bit better this year, will gossip about people a little less, will be unkind a little less, will think less of your fellow Jew who doesn’t know what he’s talking about a little less.
What got me to bring this up is that, as I’ve written many times before, I am a big believer that everything that happens happens when it does for a reason. I believe that Jeffrey Epstein’s death happened right before the High Holiday season for a reason.
And that reason is to remind us that all of us, even the worst of us, can repent for all we’ve done wrong, even for the worst things we’ve done. Jeffrey Epstein, instead of killing himself, could have done tshuva.
No, that wouldn’t have absolved him of his despicable crimes, but it would have been the Jewish thing to do. Tshuva is not a get out of jail card. But it is a way that we have, a precious gift that we have, to look back at the past year, do an honest assessment of ourselves and try to do better in the new year.
Of course, none of us is the evil piece of garbage that Epstein was. But if tshuva was available even to someone like him, which it was, then it is certainly available for each of us.
Think about it. Let me tell you how I do tshuva, which as it happens, I try to do every day of the year so I don’t have such a pile up of sins come Rosh Hashanah. I sit on the couch and I set an alarm. My goal is always to do an hour, but I usually do 30 minutes and I admit sometimes I do 15 minutes. Setting the alarm gives me both comfort that I won’t go longer than I feel I can handle and also relieves me of having to think about how much time this is taking. The alarm will go off and it will be over.
First thing I do each day is go over the day in my head and thank G-d for everything I am thankful for, everything that happened that day that I’m happy about. And you know what, even if I think I had a lousy day, I am always amazed when I methodically go through the day how many things I have to be thankful for.
Next, I think of the things I said and the things I did that day that I feel bad about. I itemize them all, not doing a guilt trip on myself but noting I wish I had not said this, wish I had said that, am sorry I did this thing, regret not having done that thing. I then ask G-d to forgive me for my mistakes, errors in judgment and not nice behavior, and tell myself and Him that I will try to do better, be better tomorrow.
Finally, I ask G-d for everything I want, and in doing so show my recognition that all comes from Him. I ask for things big and small, go through everything my heart desires and show my soul believes that everything in my life comes from G-d, everything He gives me is good, whether it feels like that or not, and that everything that happens in my life is for a reason, a godly reason, even if I don’t see it or understand it.
And that’s it. You can do it in 15 minutes. Thanks for the day’s good stuff, apologies for the bad ways I acted that day and requests for stuff I want.
As much as I often resist doing it, I always every time feel better for having done it. I highly recommend it. Especially this time of the year when we all pray that G-d gives us a year filled with great health, much happiness, serenity, prosperity, meaning, joy, blessings and good things.
From the bottom of my heart, I wish all those of you nice enough to read what I have to say each and every week that G-d bestows on each and every one of you, each and every one of all those things in the coming year.