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Grounding Ourselves in Teshuvah

09/02/2020 07:33:59 AM


As I write this on the Friday that is the first day of Elul, the month before the new year begins, I am stepping into my annual process of teshuvah. At the same time, it feels like my spiritual heels are dragging along the ground, unsure of my steps in this unstable time.

For the many years that social media and digital communications have been a feature of our secular culture, it has also offered wonderful platform in the Jewish world for disseminating news, offering teaching, providing resources, and facilitating connections. Yet there was one thing I always found strange, though, and a little uncomfortable: when a friend would post or email a blanket: “If I have hurt, slighted, or negatively impacted you in any way this past year….” or “I hereby release anyone who has hurt me, intentionally or unintentionally …”

On one level, the source of discomfort came from my understanding about teshuvah as a multi-step, iterative process. Plopping that statement out there just doesn’t do the deed! I would metaphorically harrumph. And right there, I self-righteously created another opportunity for my own teshuvah, opening a path of self-examination about my seemingly endless capacity to judge what I feared, or what I was not doing myself.

What irked me so much? I think it was the omnipresence and omni-applicability of technology and especially social media. I doubted my capacity to learn and use it; I worried about the impact it had on my children and their developing social skills; I resented being with folks who spend inordinate amounts of time on their devices.

These and other thought bubbles morphed into a stance that I was hardening into intolerance. I don’t want to be like them, with my phone glued to my hand. And – I got along fine without, so I don’t need to adapt. And - I can’t learn this stuff. 

And now, here I am, grateful for it all, for the material circumstances of my life, and the privilege I am granted to own such devices, to be able to upgrade them, in the midst of a pandemic, to better communicate in all the ways necessary; for my capacity to learn, to adapt, to become one of those folks who carries a device with them everywhere, who downloads podcasts, shares documents, and gives colleagues advice on using Zoom. That’s me.

And it’s all an integral part of my teshuvah process, this Elul 5780, leading to the most extraordinary and usual High Holiday season of my adult life, one in which I need to enthusiastically and whole-heartedly embrace technology. I regret, acknowledge, and renounce my sin of arrogance and judgment on those who have embraced, adapted to or integrated technology and digital media into their lives. I will personally make amends, and – the most important, and ongoing aspect of the teshuvah process – resist making the same sin going forward.

As Elul unfolds this year, and I become friendlier with gadgets and platforms, I am also becoming a better human. Ken yehi ratzon – so may it be, for all of our personal and collective experiences of teshuvah, in this extraordinary time of shifting certainties and unknowns, when what we are able to change becomes our solid ground.

Rabbi Liz

Mon, March 1 2021 17 Adar 5781