Sinning Against Myself

Mirror, mirror...

Mirror, mirror… (Photo credit: janetmck)

Look in the mirror.  Look at the face that looks back at you.  What do you see?

Do you see a person

— who needs sleep?

— who needs to see a doctor?

— who drinks too much?

— who eats unhealthfully?

— who is too tired to know what she needs?

— who is depressed?

— who needs regular exercise and doesn’t get it?

— who hasn’t laughed in a month?

— who is secretly struggling with something she hopes no one else will notice?

— who needs help and won’t ask for it?

— who has been offered help but refuses to accept it?

— who is lonely?

— who is frightened about something?

— who hasn’t had a day off  in HOW long?

Modern secular culture encourages us not to take care of ourselves. We see advertisements for unhealthy foods, for “fun” gambling, for TV shows that are on late at night. We get caught up in the push for certain kinds of success. With our families scattered all over the country or the world, care for children or elders often falls on one or two family members, who get no help or relief. We avoid admitting to depression, mental illness, disabilities, because of the stigma they carry. We avoid asking for help because that would involve admitting that we need it.

These are sins against ourselves. When we fail to get enough sleep, good food, and enough exercise, we forget that our bodies are limited, that we are setting ourselves up for illness. When we fail to ask for or accept help, not only do we hurt ourselves, but we keep others from having the opportunity to do a mitzvah.

Ask: What could I change in my life so that I could get enough sleep? Help taking care of my aged parents? Help doing whatever it is I need to do to take care of myself?

Then make a plan.  Do it.

If the answer to that question is, “Nothing,” or “I don’t know” then make an appointment to talk with someone who can help you find options: a rabbi, a therapist, a counselor, a friend.  Admit how hard it’s all gotten to a person who won’t tell on you. Ask them to help you find some ways to lighten the burden.  Those ways exist, whether you can see them or not.

Make the call.  Do it.

For sins against God, the Day of Atonement atones, but for sins against human beings the Day of Atonement does not atone: those include the sins against ourselves.

Someone is waiting for you, and for me, in the mirror.


Practical repentance

old habits [old shoes discarded]

by Rabbi Batsheva Appel

Repentance, teshuvah, is a process. We recognize the wrongs that we have done and regret doing them. We communicate both our recognition and our regrets to the person whom we have wronged. We determine that we will not repeat the same actions. And when we are faced with the same situation, we make a different choice. Maimonides offers an example of someone who is successful at repentance: a man who has had an affair and finding himself alone with the same woman, still loving her and still able to rekindle the affair, choosing not to act on that impulse.

As a process, teshuvah is a difficult challenge for us. We do not want to realize that we have done something wrong and we do not want to face up to the consequences. Apologizing to someone makes us feel vulnerable.  Even when we do go through all the steps of recognition, remorse, asking for forgiveness, making restitution, resolving to never do this again, we can still fall down at the final step, again making the same choice that we resolved not to make.

So, we come back to our teshuvah each year, resolving the same things, wanting to make the same changes. We reflect, we are introspective, we are honest with ourselves, we really want to change…and we don’t. Sin, repent, rinse, repeat.

We do not always make the changes that we seek, not because of a lack of will or desire, not because of a lack of prayer or promises, but because of a lack of planning. We need the spiritual side of repentance, but we also need to be much more practical about what is happening when we go through the process of teshuvah.

Recently I read The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg.  Duhigg writes about how the habits in our lives shape everything for good and for bad. We wake up in the morning and do not spend much time about thinking about what comes next, because we automatically get ready for the day. If we had to think through the steps of each and every action of our day, the amount of time that we would need would skyrocket. We also have habits that are less successful for us, the habits that we wish we could change, smoking, not exercising, etc.

Duhigg delineates the steps in changing one a habit: we explore the craving that underlies the habit, we determine the cue for the habit, what routine we follow, and what outcome results. When we have all of this information, we can change the routine and change the outcome.

These steps work to help change simple habits like not eating a cookie every afternoon [Duhigg’s personal example] as well as the more serious habits that we are striving to change.  If we go back to the steps of repentance, we can add to them.  When we recognize what we have done, we can look for the cues, the routines, the outcomes. When we resolve to change, we can formulate a plan for exactly how we will make the change, instead of relying on sheer force of will or removing all opportunities to repeat the same action. Then when we are in the same situation, we can enact our plan and be truly repentant. If we are successful, we will have developed a new habit that sustains itself and replaces the old one.

Duhigg says that one of the keys to change is knowing that we have a choice. We have a choice.  We can choose repentance. We can do more than choose, we can plan and work towards our goal and make 5773 and beyond very different from the past year.

G’mar chatimah tovah! May you be sealed in the book of a good life!

Rabbi Appel is rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago. 



By Rabbi Ellen Greenspan

  • I am following in the footsteps of my colleagues and have chosen to write on the High Holy Day theme for today suggested by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer in her #BlogElul.

I am not a math person, yet when contemplating the word “counting” as part of my Elul reflection, I find myself a bit dismayed at all the things I count.

Do I have enough peaches from the farm stand to make this yummy sounding recipe for home made peach ice pops? (Lots of recipes on-line, but I tried one from a book I found in the library).

How many tomatoes are growing on my sorry looking tomato plants? (Not enough, but at least I have some)!

How many minutes did I run today in my effort to prepare for my first 5K in October? (A challenge from a friend to do a “Couch to 5K” program).

How many days until I send my daughter back to college in California (from our home in NJ)? She has not been home much this summer, and I am enjoying having her home for these last 2 weeks of the summer. But she is so eager to return to Pitzer College for her sophomore year that I can’t help but be excited for her.

How many shooting stars did I see when I was in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York with some college friends? Far from the city lights, we saw lots – and we didn’t even watch the sky for that long because it got chilly. It was the Perseid Meteor Shower, a reminder of G-d’s glory.

I could go on…. The things I count run the gamut from mundane to funny, from inspirational to depressing. “Counting” seems to be an unavoidable fact of life.

But, in this season of reflection and teshuvah, I am also counting my blessings. For my loving family, my amazing and supportive friends, good health and for life itself – all things that should not be taken for granted.