Ninth step for the ten days

I’ve become a bit more familiar with the twelve steps, as formulated by Alcoholics Anonymous, and I think that much of it is congruous with Judaic teachings regarding repentance, which are prominent during the aseret y’mei t’shuva (ten days of repentance).

I think the most profound of the twelve steps is number four: “made a searching and fearless moral inventory” – this is, for lack of a better term, terrifying. I cannot say that I have ever truly finished that – I don’t know that it’s the kind of thing which ever does get finished – but the pieces of this that I have looked at shocked me. I realized that my behavior had significantly wronged someone about whom I care deeply, and worse, the person did not know. This all came about because I had been afraid of the discomfort that the truth would have caused – and now of course, it was much worse.

The inventory that we take of ourselves is how we can look back at our past, and ask whether we did any of those things in the vidui (confession) – did we lie, cheat, steal, shirk responsibility, lead others astray? Were we brazen in our wrongdoing – did we double down on our sinful ways and not only continue to do them, but justify them to ourselves?

I know I did. Heck, I probably still do.

Personally, this time scares me – after all, I know (some of) those times when I’ve done the wrong thing, and it embarrasses me to even think of them. Kal v’homer (A fortiori) the Holy One, Blessed is He, would discern all of those things I had hoped to forget.

One of the worst parts of that, for me, is the knowledge that if I were to look back on now from a period in the future, there would be things in my present which in retrospect were appalling, but of which I have no knowledge at this time.

But what we can do about it is summed up in the ninth step – “made direct amends to [the person wronged] whenever possible, and whenever that would do more good than harm.” Conceptually, this is the same as acquaintances walking around asking each other “do you Mohel (forgive) me?” – but the difference comes in the admission of true wrong, rather than just the “if I have done anything to offend you, will you forgive me?” sort of language. It is a potent and powerful thing to tell someone “I wronged you at thus-and-such time by doing thus-and-so; I regret the action and the harm that it caused; I was wrong, and here is what I should have known or realized but did not, and is there anything I can do to repair this for you?”

Most years, I have been one of the casual types – I had been smug in my righteousness, saying that if I had offended someone, well, they probably had it coming. This, too, was wrong, and I’m going to try not to do that again. Better, I approached the aforementioned person and explained what I had done, and I apologized. This was phenomenally scary – I was shaking to my core. I would like to hope that I would handle being on the other end of the conversation as graciously as my friend did – s/he was gentle and forgiving, and while the damage may not be undone, at least we can now hope to repair some of it.

Hopefully all penitent conversations will go that well.

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Sew what?

I bought a new Atara for my tallit when we were in Israel. I did this because I’ve started wearing my tallit over my head during the Amidah, but I was finding that it kept slipping off – so I needed something with a bit more weight.

So when I went to sew it on, Sarah asked whether I shouldn’t just take this to a tailor to do a professional job – no, says I, I’d rather have the pride of personal workmanship! I started sewing it on by hand, as I don’t have a sewing machine.

Of course, two days before Rosh Hashana I took an accounting, and realized that I was only 1/4 of the way through – so I ended up going with the tailor after all. D’oh! But the silver lining of the story is that the tailor praised my sewing skill (!) and said that of course she’d use a machine because it would take way too long by hand (!!)

So all that is a prelude to a big “thank you” to my mom, who insisted that I learn to sew (although I’m not in her league – she makes her own clothing, while I can be pleased with how well a button is attached).