Temple Emanuel – Grand Rapids

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Am I Ready for the New Year?

Am I ready?

The Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days) are nearly here and I keep asking myself those three words: Am I ready?

These four weeks that lead up the High Holidays is the Jewish month of Elul. This month is the time when Jews are invited to take a look at where we are, spiritually. We ask ourselves:

  • How do I want to exist in this upcoming year?
  • How have I treated other people? Am I showing my loved ones enough appreciation?
  • How have I treated myself? Am I taking care of myself?
  • Am I accomplishing my generosity goals?
  • Am I spiritually who I want to be? 

But to be honest– that’s a lot! It’s overwhelming. Where do I even begin?

The Rabbi teaches a class every Elul called “Eat, Learn, Understand, Listen,” where we use a book called “For Every Season” by Jeff Bernhardt to guide us in a spiritual exploration. Recently, the Rabbi couldn’t make it, so I taught the class. We began by examining the prayer “Atah V’chartanu,” and we discussed what it means to call ourselves “the chosen people” and to be a “light upon the nations.” But before we knew it, the conversation had veered into a different direction. We found ourselves talking about “T’shuvah” and what this concept really means. We talked about what are the Aseret Y’mei T’shuvah (Ten Days of Awe) and what is our role during this time. And suddenly, I felt like I had a path.


Apologies. What I am going to make apologies. I am going to go to every person in my life and say, “Have I done anything this past year that has hurt you?” And when they respond, I’m going to do my very best to offer an open and curious heart. 

What I’m not going to say:

  • “I’m sorry you were hurt from what I said.”
  • “I’m sorry if that upset you.”
  • “I’m sorry, but please try to understand…”
  • “Why are you just telling me about this now?”
  • “I just wish you had……”
  • “If you had only….”

What I am going to say:

  • “Can you explain that again? I’m not sure I quite understand why that hurt you, but I really want to. Can you rephrase that?”
  • “Do you mind if I write this down? I just want to make sure I’m following.”
  • “Okay, I think I understand. Do you mind if I repeat back to you what you just said? I just want to make sure I’m understanding.”
  • “I see why you were hurt. Your pain makes sense to me. Honestly, that would upset me, too.”
  • “I didn’t realize that until now. This is new information for me. So, I need some time to process this so that I can respond to you in an authentic way. I’m feeling a little bit flooded at the moment. Do you mind if revisit this conversation tomorrow at 3:00, when I’ve had some time to really think about what you’ve said.”
What I have to avoid is the urge to justify my actions. I want to explain my very good reason for doing what I did or saying what I said. But if this relationship is truly worth saving, the person will say, “Thank you. I really appreciate you owning that. It really hurt me and I’m still healing. But now I want to know why. Why did you act like that?”


Storytime: Years ago, my Mother was very sick. My friend of ten years, Angel, invited me to have dinner with her parents at a fancy restaurant in New York City. I was a total jerk for the entire dinner. I complained about the food, insulted the decor, argued with her Mom, just, wasn’t a very nice person. She was furious with me. I ruined the entire dinner. She came to me afterward and really let me have it. Was I gracious and humble? No way! I was defensive and offended that she was accuse me of acting untoward. I was too self-unaware to even realize it was because I was wracked with angst about my Mom’s deteriorating health, so I didn’t mention that. Years later, after my Mom died and I moved away from New York, met Corey, and we were living in Evanston, I really had had the time to reflect. I had been in such pain, not having Angel in my life for the past several years. I wrote her a letter — a real, handwritten letter. 

I knew I had to be careful with this letter, so I thought a lot about it. Without publishing the entire letter, here’s the cliff notes version:

I realize now that I really hurt you. I can’t believe I acted like that — seriously. It feels like that was a different person. I’ve thought a lot about this and I keep thinking of how hurt you must have been. You didn’t deserve that. I ruined the entire dinner. You were so kind to invite me and your family paid for me. I should have shown you appreciation, but I didn’t. I treated you all terribly. And when you confronted me, I was defensive and offended. I ignored how much courage it must have taken to actually try to have that conversation with me. I am sorry, Angel. Please know that I will never act like that ever again. I love you and miss you.

There were two things I was proud that I didn’t say. I didn’t justify my actions and I didn’t ask for forgiveness. Angel needed my love — she didn’t need my excuses and my reasons. Also, I’m not going to ask her for anything — even forgiveness. That would make this about me, and it isn’t about me. It’s about her healing.

Angel got in touch me a month later. She thanked me and appreciated this. And because her and my relationship was truly worth saving, she said, “Why did you act like that?” And I told her. I told her that my grief was overwhelming me and I was spinning out of control, not just with her, but with everyone in my life. And she understood. Now, our relationship is back on track. We are closer than ever. Our relationship is more genuine and authentic than it ever was.

This is my prayer for anyone who reads this: Apologize and let your apology be healing for everyone involved. How do you do that? Have the self-awareness to know that you can be a good, amazing, loving, kind, generous person AND you are capable of hurting people. Good people make mistakes and good people can tolerate knowing that they hurt other people.

Shanah tovah um’tukah (May you have a good and sweet new year),

Cantor David