Guilt and worry--the signature characteristics of of American Judaism. No, not really, but they often seem to be, especially during the month of Elul. They don't have to, suggested the rabbi yesterday at services. This week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, included a long and somewhat gruesome list of curses, followed by a bunch of blessings. The rabbi related it to the blessing and curse of hindsight. We feel regretful when we look back at what we haven't accomplished, but failure is part of the human condition--and we're engineered to learn from our mistakes. But our educational system, and our entire American culture, pretty much, make us feel that we're out of luck when we don't immediately "get it," whatever "it" is. Perhaps--a radical idea--we can think of hindsight as a blessing instead, a helpful and welcome tool to identify what we have't yet achieved, and are still able to. (Or not; in that case, a way to reach closure, and move on.) In context of the current, introspective month of Elul, he suggested we turn things around and try to be grateful instead--OK, I've fallen short of the mark, but look how much it's taught me!--rather than reacting to our shortcomings with that popular trifecta of guilt/worry/anger.
It's a brilliant insight, and seemed much more possible to achieve as I sat in services listening to the rabbi's kind and logical words of wisdom. Today, not so easy. But as I get ready to attend the funeral, in a few hours, of a sweet, lovely man (I wrote about him a few years ago), and lead a shiva minyan for a different grieving family tonight--and another for yet another family on Tuesday*--I am reminded to be grateful for the health of my loved ones, for being able to live in freedom on this gorgeous, sunny, not too hot day, and for the possibility of growth and change, whenever I'm ready for it.
*I must admit that I didn't jump at the chance to volunteer, as I'm a little afraid of being around so much sadness so many days in a row. But all that death taxes the resources of any community, even a large one like ours, and also causes rabbis to run around like crazy providing support to very many grieving people. I can't imagine anything more exhausting; I want to do my part to help my rabbis find a little space to breathe before they have to support the rest of us during the holiday marathon.