Leaving Guilt Behind Before Rosh Hashanah

SAN FRANCISCO — Here is a radical proposal for the New Year: Forget the guilt and instead lean into what you love to become the best possible version of yourself.

The liturgy for the Jewish New Year has us taking a long, hard look at all the mistakes we have made over the previous 12 months. Soul-searching is good, but, for the most part — if we are honest — we already know where our faults lie, and if we were able to change them with ease, we would already have done so.

This is not to say that we should forgo striving to be our best selves. On the Jewish calendar, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Elul. One rabbinic interpretation of this name is that it is an acro­nym for the Hebrew ani l’dodi v’dodi li, “I am for my be­loved and my beloved is for me.”

A lovely, romantic notion, the rabbis also take it to be a tribute to God’s love for us. It is not accidental that the month leading up to the New Year is one that takes love as a main theme. Love can be a powerful force for change, easier to embrace and more satisfying than guilt.

There are many ways to use love as a means of encouraging yourself.

Love exists on many planes; elevating any one of them improves the world. Here are three concrete suggestions that focus on love of self, love in relationships and love as an element of community.

First, make a list of the things you love about yourself. The list should contain no less than five significant things. Take time to think about each of these attributes. Why do you love this about yourself? Generosity? Creativity? Silliness? Ambition? Consider how each of these qualities helps you be a positive presence in the world.

Think back to a time in your life when those elements of yourself were being fully expressed. Are you making the most of these gifts right now? Ask yourself what you might do to expand the impact of that strength in the world.

If you are struggling to make a list, then ask for help from those around you.

Second, part of the process of preparing for the New Year is repairing relationships. While I believe that apologies are important, taking time to focus on what works in relationships is important as well.

Set aside time with those with whom you are close. Tell them what you love and appreciate about them. Give them examples of how this strength inspires you or affirms something about the world. The more concrete the better.

Knowing they are appreciated and truly seen for who they are will help them start the year in a better place and strengthen your relationship. If there is repairing to be done, spelling out the love first will set the stage for positive engagement.

Third, think about what you love to do. Lean into your talents to make a difference in the community around you. Volunteering can be about need, but it can also be about sharing a passion and capacity.

Play sports? Then offer to coach Little League. Bake? Then bring cookies to firefighters, bread to shut-ins. Sing? Take your talent to the local hospital.

Sure, any of this takes time, but if you volunteer to do what you love, you will get a great bang for your buck. The parts of you that you love will have a chance to shine and your passion will inspire others. Studies show that those who give feel great. And the world will be a better place.

When love takes center stage, we position ourselves for success. When we feel strongly about ourselves, we are more capable of hearing the criticism that will undoubtedly come. When we know we are lovable, loved and capable of sharing love, then we can work toward making the New Year that Rosh Ha­shanah ushers in one of light, goodness and change.

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, PhD., is the rabbi-in-residence at Be’chol Lashon and the editor of the blog Jewish&. A culinary historian and mother of two, she lives and meditates in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @rabbiruth. This story originally appeared on the Rabbis Without Borders blog on MyJewishLearning. com.