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Kavannah on Teshuvah, 2018/5779

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann

There is a well-known and beloved story about Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol:

As he was approaching his death, Zusya came to his followers with tears in his eyes. They asked him, “Zusya, what’s the matter? You are pious, scholarly and humble. What do you have to cry about?”

Zusya replied: I have learned that when I reach death, the angels will not ask me, “Why weren’t you more like Moses? Why weren’t you more like Joshua?” He sighed, “They will ask me: ‘Zusya, why weren’t you more like Zusya”?

When we do the work of teshuvah (repentance, turning), it is easy to fall into the trappings of wanting to be perfect or even someone we are not. We imagine we need to be something other than we are; we need to be more accomplished, more wealthy, more thin, more righteous. We might compare ourselves to the next person and think they are “doing it better” or “wow, they really have their life together. Look at me, I will never be that (pick your adjective).

The truth is that we can only be our best selves. And, each of us can only do the very best with what we have been given. Some of us came into this world loved, embraced. Some of us weren’t so lucky. Some us were born into resources that enabled us to have opportunities that widened our world; others of us did not.

There is not one standard that we are setting out to achieve. We can only work with what was given to us.

The poet who wrote Ki Hiney KaHomer (a piyyut for Kol Nidre) describes God as a potter who shapes us out of unmolded clay. Extending the metaphor, as God shapes us, we shape our lives out of the material we have been given. We work with what we have, seeking to heal and to grow. To know who we are and who we are not so we can be set free of comparisons and judgments. Let us mold our lives following our own unique pattern, with compassion and with love.

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