The month of Elul is almost upon us. From the end of Elul through Yom Kippur, while many Jews recite, in an undertone, the formal script with which they seek forgiveness, some might simultaneously be conducting an even quieter, conversation with themselves. The personal conversation takes on a different tone and tenor than the forgiveness formula:
If we were to dig beneath the surface of these personal conversations, we might find resentment. It is particularly within the relationships that mean the most to us that resentment occurs. Our relationships with our parents and spouses tend to be so essential to our emotional well-being that we are often barely conscious of the feelings of disappointment and frustration that are, in varying degrees, also present. The negative feelings don't go away, so much as they head underground. We might only notice them when we find ourselves somehow dodging the expectations of our loved ones, when we unintentionally make snarky comments, when we act in a passive-aggressive fashion.
Our relationship with Hashem is not all that different. The thought of losing our connection to Him can be terrifying, yet we may have questions about fairness, goodness, and the hand we’ve been dealt, in life. Some of us may feel abandoned, by Hashem. We may have accumulated disappointments, perhaps even grievances. We become resentful.
Perhaps, even before we try to ask forgiveness of Hashem, we need to begin the process of forgiving Him. It's not that Hashem needs our forgiveness—at least not in a traditional sense. If we find ourselves feeling disconnected from Mitzvot, if we inexplicably fail to do the right things and are often doing the wrong things, if our behavior toward Hashem carries the markers of resentment, it might help to reexamine the Teshuvah (repentance) process. It may even serve us to have a conversation about (or with) Hashem, so that our connection doesn’t become so tenuous, our spiritual selves so desiccated that we can’t even begin to consider asking, with sincerity, for our own forgiveness.
Do you recall a teacher from school, yeshiva or seminary, who invited your questions? Do you recall a mentor or a confidante who could listen to your heartfelt words, even if they were tinged with pain, sorrow, and anger? Do you still have access to that person?
Are you able to speak directly to Hashem about any of these thoughts and feelings?
The notion of sharing our questions, hurt, and even our grievances with Hashem is not foreign to Judaism. Rav Nachman of Breslov encouraged his followers to share their private thoughts and feelings with Hashem. Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berdichtov, was wont to air out his claims in front of Hashem as it were. Stretching back further in time, Iyov (Job) had much to say to Hashem about suffering, and even Avraham directly questioned Hashem’s justice—at least, in one setting.
Fear, mistrust, and especially resentment are natural feelings. They will likely occur, in varying degrees, in all of our important relationships—including our relationship to the Divine. Instead of burying our feelings, perhaps it’s time to share them.
Sharing our thoughts and feelings with Hashem can lead to understanding and acceptance. It can also lead to intimacy and forgiveness. When we become open to our own questions, we are ready to embark on the quest for answers. We may, over the course of time, make peace with what we can reasonably expect in a relationship with the Divine. Paradoxically, when we share our feelings of abandonment with Hashem, we often come to feel less alone. Understanding, acceptance, and openness form the soil from which forgiveness can sprout. When they come together, they make room for us to turn around and seek forgiveness from Hashem.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life – a life that is filled with genuineness, wholesomeness and holiness.