Last year, at a workshop I attended on Jewish Spirituality and Mindfulness, we broke into small groups and were asked a profound question: “What are you most afraid of?”
I’m not generally a fearful person. As a kid, I was never really afraid of getting hurt. I have never been afraid to try new things, or to go to new places.
But I think the thing I have always feared the most is this: What if I’m not enough? What if I don’t do enough? What if I’m not good enough?
Each of us creates a vision of who it is we think we are supposed to be. And inevitably, we always see some gap between that ideal, and who we really are.
This is the work of the month of Elul – to look long and hard at ourselves in the mirror and take a full and honest measure of our true selves.
A big part of that work is learning to ask ourselves a basic question: Who are You?
First, we might look at the basics. I am a 54 year-old male human being, approximately 5’ 6” tall, weight (unfortunately growing a little), with hazel eyes and receding graying hair.
We can define ourselves by our familial relationships. I am Daniel. I am the husband to Aimee, the father to Ari, Meredith, and Ellie, the son of Shirley and Bud, the brother of Suzanne and Jennifer, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, nephew, cousin, and more…
Another way we can define ourselves is by our professional work – I am a rabbi. I serve Temple Beth El of Boca Raton. I study, I teach, I counsel, I mentor, I advise, I lead worship, I read, I write, I strategize, I listen, I speak.
We can define ourselves by the things we like to do. I like to hike and spend time in the mountains. I like to be out in nature. I like to play golf. I (used to) like to play soccer. I love theater and music.
Still another way we can define ourselves is by our ethnicity and our heritage. I am an American. I am Jewish. I grew up near Washington, DC. My ancestors came from Europe. I am Caucasian.
We can define ourselves by the communities we belong to. I belong to Temple Beth El and the JCC and the larger Boca Raton Jewish community. I belong to a variety of communities of wonderful colleagues and friends.
We can define ourselves by our principles, our values, and beliefs. I am someone who values compassion, who believes in integrity, who champions love, who cherishes freedom, who loves to learn, who craves wisdom, who cares deeply for justice, who strives to be open, curious, and humble, who is a passionate Jew, an ardent Zionist, who marvels at science, who is awed by art, who believes in progress, and the power of the human spirit.
We can define ourselves by our personality. I can be funny. I like to laugh. I am an extrovert. I like to take charge. I am ambitious. I can be loud. I feel deeply. I cry at movies.
We can define ourselves by our flaws, our fears, and our failures. I get frustrated easily. I am often impatient. I procrastinate. I can be insecure. Perhaps a bit annoying.
As we take stock of who we are, we tend to measure ourselves against what we imagine is the ideal. Am I taking good enough care of my health? Do I have enough money? Am I good enough at my job? Did I realize enough professional success? Was I supportive and attentive enough as a spouse, a father, a son, a friend? Did I live up to my principles? Did I work hard enough to tend to my flaws?
And did we ever stop to wonder if what we think is the ideal is really the ideal? How did we come to believe in that ideal?
Does it matter how much material wealth we have gained? Does it matter if we achieve professional success? Does it matter if we hit a golf ball straight?
Does it matter if we continually strive to learn? Does it matter if we practice compassion, or get involved in our community, or sacrifice for what we really believe in? Does it matter if we ignore our physical health, our mental health, our emotional health, our spiritual health?
The work of repentance is found in pushing ourselves to really understand who we are, and to deliberately and thoughtfully cultivate an ideal toward which we can strive. To realize that we are enough, and that at the same time, there is always so much more that we can strive to be.
Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”
Selichot with guest artist Chava Mirel will be held at 8:00 pm on Saturday, September 9, 2023 at Temple Beth El. All are welcome Please Register here.