“It will have to wait until after the High Holy Days.”
My children are used to that refrain. From late August until early October, many of their requests are answered with the familiar phrase: after the holy days. The shopping trip to replace the sneakers, the movie they want to see, the party they need help planning – these are the seeming extras that my family is asked to put on hold while I write sermons, work with the soloist, supervise the distribution of honors and listen to Torah readers. No matter how much we resolve to start preparing earlier, those of us who lead services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are often subsumed by the overwhelming number of tasks that confront us.
This is a time of year when those who are closest to us are asked to make sacrifices because of the sacred responsibility that many of us have to lead our communities in worship during these powerful days. Our partner or spouse bears a heavier load of household responsibilities. Our aging parent reluctantly agrees to skip the weekly lunch. The new man or woman that we have begun to date is asked to wait a few weeks to go out again. And it goes on and on.
We know from the work we are doing through surveys and focus groups, that many of us feel this tension, particularly in this season. The feelings of guilt that build up when High Holy Day preparation takes us away from our loved ones only adds to the stress that we feel, stress that impacts those we love and live with. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a vicious cycle that seems impossible to break.
And then there is guilt. Knowing that my children expect the refrain, “it will have to wait until after the Holy Days” does not make saying it each year any easier. Now that they are older, they are often the ones to say, “I know that this will need to wait”. And still, I feel guilty. The feelings of guilt that we carry about this ever-present tension are especially ironic at this time of year. We often counsel people about the guilt they carry, about the difference between forgetting and letting go. So many people are weighed down by their wrongdoings, by relationships that are wounded. We strive to help them let go of self-recrimination, the ever-present guilt that prevents them from moving forward. In other words, we encourage them to forgive themselves that they may more freely open their hearts to new possibilities and change.
Yet as with so many things, what we strive to help others achieve is much harder to achieve for ourselves. There is no simple solution to the feeling of being pulled in all directions, of feeling guilty by the sense that we are failing someone as we work to please everyone. But we have learned from you that reaching out helps. Know that you are not alone in your feelings, and it might help to remind yourself of that by calling a friend. It is not admitting failure to do so and in fact, your openness may help the person you call by bringing a common feeling in to the open. And finally: forgive yourself. In so doing, may your heart soften and open to allow true change, healing and growth.
Rabbi Betsy Torop is the Director of Member Engagement, Support, and Professional Growth for the Central Conference of American Rabbis.