Making Your Way Back

It must be hard being a judge on American Idol.  Deciding who goes on and whose journey to stardom ends in an abrupt, heartbreaking fashion cannot be easy.  For some acts, a no-vote must seem rather obvious, while for the special few, they destined for greatness.  Yet, it is those in-between acts – those with uncertain potential – for which it must be difficult to choose.

As we enter into the High Holy Days season, the topic of judging is on my mind.   After all, our liturgy reminds us that God will be judging our worthiness and hopefully granting us yet another year. Thinking about it raises some uncomfortable questions: What if someone has been trying hard all year, but slipped up recently?  Will that mean disqualification from the Book of Life? And what if God is in a particularly bad mood this time around? Could it mean this time might bring an extra “no-vote” or two?

In reality, I don’t worry too much, mostly because my own theology shies away from the idea of God sitting on a chair in some heavenly office making these decisions.  But just in case, we all can rest assured because the steps to insuring a “thumbs-up” to move on to the next round from God are clearly established.

The great Jewish scholar and physician Moses ben Maimonides (a.k.a. Rambam) about a thousand years ago elaborated on the steps to take for teshuvah. Often mistranslated as repentance, teshuvah is Hebrew for “return to the straight path”.  Once we have deviated from that path God has laid out for us, we need to make our way back. To do that, Rambam says it’s just three easy steps:

  1. Own up to your mistakes
  2. Express regret at the bad choices you have made
  3. Determine a plan to make sure you don’t make those mistakes again.

By following this simple, clear step-by-step procedure, we are supposedly guaranteed a trip to the next round!  Of course, there are few guarantees in life.  However, knowing this simple formula makes the work we must do at the high holy days much easier to master.

So warm up your voices and brush up on your footwork.  Know that what we will do as individuals and as a community at the high holy days will not only help us improve ourselves, but will also make for a better world.   And that’s the way that we all can say we are winners this time.

May your teshuvah be genuine and meaningful, and may the new year ahead be filled with sweetness, with triumph and with much success.