At the Phyne Dyner’s home, the High Holy Days mark the high point of the Jewish calendar. It means we get a fresh start and a (hopefully!) clean slate on which to begin writing our lives for the next year. A magnet on the refrigerator sums up the sentiments:
“Dear G-d…Thank you for giving me a new day. Especially since I messed up so badly yesterday.”
Every morning, Mrs. Phyne Dyner and I do some Jewish learning from a variety of sources. I had been searching for something meaningful to share with my readers, but I did not want to “go all preachy” on them.
This morning, just in time, Mrs. Phyne Dyner shared this with me:
“Ecclesiastes, at the end of his religious phase, may well have said to G-d, ‘What more do You want of me? I have groveled, I have offered unquestioning obedience, I have done everything You asked me to. Why then have You withheld from me that sense of completeness, that promise of eternity that I was looking for?’ And G-d may have answered, ‘What pleasure do you think I take in your groveling? Do you really think I am so insecure that I need you to diminish yourself to make Me feel great? I wish people would stop quoting what I said to the human race in its infancy, and listen to what I am trying to tell them today. From children, and from spiritual children, I expect obedience. But from you unquestioning obedience is just another name for the failure to act like an adult and take responsibility for your own life. Do you want to feel complete? Do you want to feel as if you have finally learned how to live? Then stop saying ‘I only did what You told me to,’ and start saying, ‘You may or many not like it, but I have given it a lot of thought and this is what I feel is right.’”
“True religion should not say to us, ‘Obey! Conform! Reproduce the past!’ It should call upon us to grow, to dare, even to choose wrongly at times and learn from our mistakes rather than being repeatedly pulled back from the brink of using our own minds. For responsible religious adults, G-d is not the authority telling them what to do. G-d is the divine power urging them to grow, to reach, to dare. When G-d speaks to such people, He does not say, as one might to a child, ‘I will be watching you to make sure you don’t do anything wrong.’ He says rather, ‘Go forth into an uncharted world where you have never been before, struggle to find your path, but no matter what happens, know that I will be with you.’ Like a father who is genuinely proud when his children achieve success entirely on their own, G-d is mature enough to derive pleasure from our growing up, not from our dependence on Him.”
[Harold Kushner: When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (1986)]
This is not some New Agey feel good concept to make G-d more ‘human’ for an anything goes modern man. G-d said to Abram, “Lech lecha…Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” [Bereishit/Genesis 12 v 1-2]
L’shana tova! May you (go for yourself) and be inscribed for a good year! Even if (when) you mess up, G-d is still with you.
[Harold Kushner is a rabbi in the Progressive-Conservative movement of Judaism and is the author of a large number of inspirational books that reach out to Jews and non-Jews alike.]