Sunday, 09 October 2016

A Change of Heart

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

I want to respond to a question that I have been asked numerous times over the years about Yom Kippur. It goes roughly as follows: we stand before God on Yom Kippur and say we are sorry. We admit that we have ‘transgressed’ and made mistakes in our lives during the past year. We might have spoken badly about others, not been grateful, been dishonest or disrespectful to our spouses. Then we say, usually with full sincerity, that we will never do it again – all the time knowing full well that it won’t take long until we are back to our old ways. The sincere desire for the change of Yom Kippur seems to give way to the same old, same old, not too long after the fast ends. So what is the point?

Here’s how I see it. You just can’t beat sincerity. And a sincere desire to change one’s life and live differently is change itself. Living up to it is important, of course, but it’s not what matters most. That’s because we are all human and continually get things wrong – even when we have the best intentions. We absolutely, genuinely don’t want to be rude to our spouses – and then we end up doing just that. We want to get up early and use our time well – then sleep till midday. We plan on calling our parents to see how they are doing – then get distracted by life and it doesn’t happen. This is simply the human experience. No matter how sincere and committed we are, we don’t always manage to live up to our own hopes and expectations.

The change we are looking towards at Yom Kippur is not a change of action in the future – no one can guarantee such a thing. It is, rather, a change of heart in the present moment. That’s the best we can do. Taking responsibility for the past, realising that we genuinely do want to be different in the future and the commitment to doing our best to move in a different direction in the future. We play a role in whether that different direction happens or not, but ultimately it is not in our hands. Life springs surprises, we lose clarity, we get lost in the craziness of the moment and we find ourselves back where we were. And we make the exact mistake that we were never going to make again.

But that’s OK; that’s the process of life. You make choices, you make decisions, you make commitments and then you fall back. However….. there is growth in this process because more often than not, it’s ten steps forward but only nine steps back. And that’s progress itself. But in addition, there are those very special times in life – those gifts – when you see have a new insight, and you see it so deeply and so clearly and with such clarity – that you never go back. Those moments are not ours to command. We can look for them, hope for them and pray for them – but they will come according to God’s plan, not ours.

Yom Kippur is about a looking for this change of heart. Whether or not that change will be permanent is not our job. The sincerity and the genuineness is what matters. If you mean it in the moment – you mean it. And that’s worth everything.