I am disappointed. If you thought I was going to continue with, “I am disappointed in our elected officials,” you’d be wrong, although I am indeed deeply disappointed in them.
No, as I head into the High Holidays, I am disappointed in myself.
I am disappointed that I didn’t achieve more this year, didn’t work on the book I was writing, didn’t recycle enough, didn’t forgive someone who hurt me.
And I remind myself of something Franz Rosenzweig once said.
A German-Jewish intellectual, at the age of 27, he was on the verge of converting to Christianity. He decided to wait until after the High Holidays, and during Yom Kippur had a transformative spiritual experience and never converted.
Years later, when someone asked him if he had begun to lay tefillin, he said: “not yet.”
Not yet. It’s a great answer. We are each a work in progress. However much time we have before us, it is both a gift, an opportunity, and a burden.
A gift because every additional day on this planet, even the bad ones, is a blessing.
An opportunity because every day is another chance to be grateful, a chance for joy and love and music, and doing our own small part to make this a better world.
And it is a burden because I feel a deep sense of responsibility to get it right. To wake up every day and try to rise above the petty concerns of daily life. Because it feels as though days and months are flying by.
The High Holidays, which begin this afternoon, are purposely designed to remind us of our fragility and reliance on God’s grace, as well as our responsibility for the health of our own souls and our relationship with the Divine.
The Maggid of Dubno was known for his parables. One day a student said to him, “Rabbi, I have many imperfections, many faults. How can I change them so that I can be a better person?”
The Maggid said, Once there was a king who had one of the most splendid diamonds in the world, which he loved to show to all of his visitors. But one day he noticed that it had developed a flaw. There was a deep, long scratch in the precious jewel. He immediately summoned the finest jewelers in the land and asked them to return it to its former splendor.
But none of them could promise to return it to its original perfection. A young apprentice stepped forward, and said, “I cannot restore it. But I would be willing to create beauty where there is now a flaw.”
The king had no other hope, so he agreed. After many days, the apprentice presented the diamond to the king.
The scratch was still there. But where he had once seen a flaw, he now saw the stem of a rose. The apprentice had etched roots, flower, and leaves onto the stem. In so doing, he transformed the diamond into something more beautiful than it was before, and it became even more precious to the king.
The Maggid told his student, “We all have faults and blemishes, flaws we wish we could erase. It is up to us to transform them instead.”
This year as we enter into Rosh Hashanah I feel completely unprepared spiritually — which, I think, is exactly what God had in mind for us.
These ten Days of Awe are a time for contemplation, for turning and repenting, for inner transformation. For taking every element of who we are – the things we like and the things we don’t like – and creating beauty, purpose, and dedication to being our highest selves, where once we saw only flaws.
You can find the story of the scratched diamond in “The Hungry Clothes and other Jewish Folktales,” by Peninnah Schram.