Getting Ready for the High Holy Days

Rabbi David Booth
Rabbi David Booth

I just love this message from Rabbi David Booth of Kol Emeth in Palo Alto. Don’t make your introspection on the High Holy Days negative, find the joy.

It is Good to be Joyful
I feel the need to advocate for joy this week. We’re entering a time traditionally associated with introspection. Yet too often that introspection becomes an exercise in unproductive guilt rather than a more honest and potentially joyous assessment of who I am and who I have the potential to be.

When I teach converts, I have them write me three essays, one of which is an annotated list of their current observance. I always have to coach them to write what they are doing, because left to their own devices, they have become Jewish enough to focus only on what they are failing to do.

So exercise number one: I invite you to make a list of your mitzvoth. They could be Jewish-related observance like coming to shul or lighting candles on Friday night. They could be more humanly-related mitzvoth like volunteer work or thoughtfulness around issues of speech at work or at home. Now that you have this remarkable list, feel happy with yourself. You should feel good because you are making lots of meaning-filled choices, and that is always hard. If you want, examine which of these motivate you to do more and set some goals for the coming year.

When I do pre-marital counseling, I urge couples to work on a budget together as a communication tool. I urge them to name their values first, and plan their budget second. How we spend time and money are two of the most powerful ways in which we express ourselves in the world.

Exercise number two: write down three values that matter to you. Limit yourself to no more than four and no less than two. More, and most of us can’t honor so many values; less, and we are below our human capacity. Now, take a look at how you spend time and money. Does it match your values? In what ways do you feel good, and are there changes, places where you feel out of balance?

As you conclude these two exercises, return to joy. The easy and unproductive path is to turn now towards guilt and to allow feelings of unworthiness to prevent any ability to value ourselves in this moment, let alone to find the strength to change. Remind yourself of joy, of valuing what you ARE doing and the values you DO hold. Joy can enable us to find strength and affect real inner change.

For me, and for many, the last step is a turn towards God. There is joy in knowing that I am charting a path towards God, towards a lure in the Universe that invites blessing and goodness. It is joyous to know I am not alone in finding my path. It is joyous to know that I am on a path towards a Being of love who can fill me with blessing.

May this season of introspection bring you joy and growth!!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Booth