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Thoughts on Yom Kippur

It's ironic and probably blasphemous of me for writing a blog post on the night of Yom Kippur, because:

a. the very act of writing and publishing this post is breaking several Yom Kippur violations, and

b. everything about my life right now is so areligious, so I'm a walking shame to Orthodox Judaism in general.

But I'll go ahead and bloviate, because I've got nothing better to do right now (other than actually go to shul and observe the holy day of repentance, probably.)

Anyway, I watched this film called Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It's about this guy whose life falls apart after he catches his wife cheating with his friend in his own shower. He goes bonkers and ends up in a mental hospital, where he makes the decision that he's going to turn his life around and get his ex-wife back because he's still in love with her.

Throughout the film, Cooper's character tries so hard to "become better." He works vigorously on his exercise routine, goes to therapy, and meets Lawrence's character, who had recently lost her husband and was dealing with her own demons as a result (i.e. sleeping with her entire office team because she was feeling sad and lonely.) She immediately tries to make a connection with him, but Cooper's character avoids her like the plague and repeatedly writes her off as a crazy slut. He finally agrees with his therapist to spend some time with her, but on condition that he is "helping" her.

The funny part is that Lawrence's character is a lot more self-aware than he is. True, she's kind of crazy; she does and says super weird things, and she's kind of a loner, but she seems okay with herself. The same can't be said about Cooper's character. He constantly struggles with his self-image, is just as critical with himself as he is with everybody else, and can't get over the fact that his ex-wife still has a restraining order on him.

There are many implicit messages in the film, but here's what stood out to me starkly: Cooper's character is unable to overcome his "crazy" until he learns to accept it. And he does that with the help of Lawrence's character.

Back to the post topic:

Yom Kippur is the day religious Jews repent for their sins and spiritually wipe a clean slate for the new year. Growing up, the first step toward repentance I always learned in school was admitting your sins. In Hebrew it's called "charata."

If I were to add a sub-step to "charata," I'd add acceptance. Accept that you did what you did, and that it's a part of who you are. Don't harp on it being a bad thing, and don't constantly try to fight this part of yourself. Everything you consider a bad quality in yourself is also a quality that helped you get ahead in life. So learn to love it.

One thing I noticed about very religious people relative to areligious people is that they often have a more difficult time controlling themselves from committing certain actions despite constantly railing against those same actions. It's the direct moral manifestation of Murphy's law-- the sin that you fear so much and spend your entire life trying to avoid, you are most likely to commit. Can't help our brains.

Have you noticed religious and moral leaders tend to have a tougher time with sex scandals, for instance? These are the people who are supposed to teach everybody else how to act. But the problem is that they are human, just like everybody else-- only with ridiculously higher standards.

So while everybody else is being themselves and periodically making small, controlled "sins" (like watching porn) with low stakes, these people have such high stakes that they only sin when they have completely lost control-- not to mention also dealing with Murphy's Law and then having to cover up their shameful actions with more lies, which lead to more sin and more self-refrain and more slip-ups and more cover-ups... so exhausting!

I suspect that if more of us were to adopt the word "acceptance" as part of our vocabularies, "repentance" would be a lot easier and "repeating the sin" wouldn't be such an issue.

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