Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holy of holies of Jewish time. It is that rarest of phenomena, a Jewish festival without food. Instead, it is a day of fasting and prayer, introspection, and self-judgment when, collectively and repeatedly, we confess our sins and pray to be written into God’s Book of life.
While we should not allow the burdens of the past nor the anxieties of the future to exert a destructive effect on our living, the constructive lessons of the past and a responsible attitude towards the future can guide us to a proper and responsible life
Yet we find it hard. Last year we went through Yom Kippur and whilst we might have changed that specific day, we seemed to drift downwards thereafter.
Although we try hard, we sometimes find that after being on a spiritual high, we fall even lower than where we began.
I had a student named Dan, who, after years of overindulging had put on so much weight it was affecting his health. The time came and he made a conscious effort to change his ways. He had been dieting for a few months, eating the right food, going to gym, exercising well, and losing weight.
Out of nowhere, 10 pm one regular weekday, he felt a little hungry. Fiddling about, he decided he would go to the kitchen fridge “just to have a look”.
That day his grandparents came to visit. Of course, you know what that meant?
Surely you don’t think they came empty-handed! They brought delicious pastries.
There he was late at night, peckish and staring into the fridge.
His mind went wild as he thought: “Surely one pastry is allowed. It’s been a good few months, I have been on a diet, and I deserve it.”
The battle within began and there was a fight back.
“Don’t lose the momentum, keep your journey clear, your health matters!” was the response within.
Yet again he found himself justifying just one pastry.
“You are starving to death, I think in this circumstance it’s quite healthy – you’re only going to eat one.”
“Fine, I will take one”. He thought.
Thirty minutes later most of the box was finished.
Dan related that as soon as he finished eating the last pastry, guilt started to hit in.
“I could actually feel the fat forming around my waist. I woke up the next morning broken feeling all that hard work for what?”
He decided that given his new status he might as well enjoy himself and have a big breakfast that morning.
I looked at him, and he didn’t seem to have put on much weight since I last saw him, if anything he had lost more!
Seeing my facial expression of bewilderment, he was quick to say, “But Rabbi, it then kicked in.” “What did?” I queried.
Dan told how he remembered some good advice a Rabbi in school gave him years ago.
“I had been studying and trying to grow in Judaism. I had a bad night and was going through a low point. I thought to myself what does it matter anymore, who cares, I might as well sleep in tomorrow morning.”
I came in late and the Rabbi noticed me.
“What’s wrong”, he asked.
“Nothing. All ok Rabbi” I answered.
The Rabbi with his caring look said “I missed you this morning”.
I collapsed and told him “Well, I am not exactly the perfect Jew”.
He looked at me and said, “There is only one thing worse than messing up.
Holding on to it afterwards! Everyone fails, the best just get up and turn the page.
They learn from the past and move on.
Welcome to humanity. You failed now get up, brush yourself off and keep on going.”
Dan continued, “There I was at the kitchen table. I failed, I was bad. But I was not giving up on my whole diet. I had to regroup and not let that pastry box drag me down permanently.”
We all have aspirations in life whether it’s academic, health or relationships.
But guess what? We are human and can fail. We trip, stumble and fall.
How many times do we miss a deadline, drop the ball, do something selfish that will hurt the ones around us. While we are doing it we are so driven, but once it’s done we realise its wrong. That’s when we chose to either allow our failures to drag us down further, by justifying our actions or blaming someone else. Or stop realise it was wrong, learn something productive and turn the page.
Shlomo Hamelech said “The righteous person falls seven times and gets up” (Mishlei 24:16).
He didn’t say if a righteous person falls. He said a righteous person falls – he will fall. Why? Because everyone falls. Shlomo Hamelechs distinction isn’t who makes mistakes, it’s who gets up afterwards.
Once it’s happened we can’t change, but we can chose to take responsibility get up brush it off and turn the page.
This Yom Kippur let’s remember that FAIL is the First Attempt In Learning. Don’t be let down by not achieving your original goals. Use your inner strength and determination to fight back, introspect, and rise to become the new stronger you.