This past year I have become more aware of judgment in all its forms. We can judge a situation as good or bad, judge whether someone meets our approval or not, or make a judgment call that utilizes wisdom to make decisions. One of my daughters often asks me,” Is that bad that I feel … or that I did or didn’t…?” And my answer is always, “I can’t judge your feelings or actions as good or bad. You felt a certain way and you made a choice, based on those feelings. And that’s all there is to it.”
On these first two days of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, there is always a lot of talk around judgment. Rosh Hashanah, the day the creation of the world was completed, is deemed as the day that God will judge our world and each of us, and based on that will decide what will transpire throughout the coming year. We have ten days of reflection, starting with Rosh Hashanah, to ask for forgiveness from God, family, and friends for any wrongdoings we may have knowingly or unknowingly done that hurt another. After the ten days, our fate for next year is sealed, as we are entered into the Book of Life or not.
The prayers in our prayer books are filled with apologies for all sorts of misconduct we or anyone else may have done. We talk about the things that we want to change or do better in the next year. We even incorporate a ceremony where we go to a natural body of flowing water and metaphorically cast away all of our sins, contemplating a new start, as our transgressions float away from us.
Every year my children and I reflect together on the past year and our hopes for the upcoming year. This year, on the way to Tashlich, the ceremony by the water, my daughter wondered why we focus on judging our past year for the bad things we’ve done. How about judging the good things? And that resonated with me completely. In my coaching practice, I focus on visualizing where you want to be in your life, using what is working for you now, not focusing on what you’re hoping to discard. If I meet you a year from now, and this year goes the way that you most desire, how will you be describing your life when we meet again?
I can see the merit of reflecting about things you want to do differently. I also think that what would be even more powerful and sustainable, would be to give equal time and ceremony to focusing on what you are proud of from this past year. What if, instead of a list of transgressions, we read together a list of everything we did collectively that spread love, unity, and had a higher purpose? Let’s make a list of everything we want to remember to continue doing. When were you brave? When were you kind? When did you help someone? When were you a good listener? When were you an upstander? When did you make a difference in someone else’s life? When did you do something that was meaningful? What built you up? What served you well?
This year we “cast away” our wrongdoings into the water. Perhaps next year we should have a ceremony where we attract the things that we did that gave us joy and purpose. Maybe we gently pour drops of water on ourselves as we list our positive attributes. A waterfall of meaning, validation, and accomplishment. Something to remember as we are trying to recreate those wonderful thoughts, feelings, and actions. After Tashlich my daughter and I bonded over the fact that we had both silently changed the prayers that asked God to remove certain unwanted behaviors, and reframed them to be praying for the positive characteristics we were hoping for.
A year ago we each wrote visualizations for where we would be a year later in our lives. We allowed ourselves to truly focus on what would make a meaningful and fulfilling year. And a couple of weeks ago, when we read back what we had envisioned 12 months ago, we realized that most of it had come true! It is very powerful to have a vision that is written, something positive to focus on, to remind you of the path you truly want to follow, and to give you the momentum and courage to stay on that course (or flexibility to change it if something even better comes along.) It is a guide and a map. Maps that show you the path you want to follow are much more effective than a map would be that just showed you the paths you shouldn’t follow.
Days of judgment are a difficult concept for me to swallow. I think we would be better off not including judgment as part of our vocabulary. Judging others is what creates distance and dissonance between the people in our world. We are each doing the best we can, with the information we have, at any given moment. We are each a product of our upbringing and chemistry, and judging someone else or ourselves as good or bad just doesn’t connect for me. Striving to understand another, and why someone thinks, feels, and acts a certain way, makes more sense to me.
One of the biggest hurdles my coaching clients yearn to overcome is the hurdle of feeling judged. I’m not sure it’s healthy for our community to include judgment so prominently in our liturgy. I would prefer that we model and share all of the ways that we’ve felt fulfilled. I would prefer that we take the time to learn about what might feel foreign to us in someone else, how to connect with all types of people, and how to reduce stigma and shame that comes from differences. If there were no judgment, there would be no shame and stigma, from God or people or ourselves.
I also think that it’s short-sighted to judge a situation as good or bad. I am grateful for and have learned some of the most important lessons in my life from experiences I would have judged as bad at the time. As I spend less time deciding if occurrences are good or bad, I am free to wonder,” What can I learn from this incident? What can I be grateful for right now?” I can have faith that in the end of this, we will get through what is feeling painful, and likely will be in an even better place. The less energy we put into reacting as victims of a bad situation, the more energy we have into creating the response that will serve us best.
As we reflect on our past year and think about how we hope to live in the coming year, I will be focusing on gratitude, not judgment. I know that the more I am grateful for, the more I will have to be thankful for. My wish is that this year we are each empowered to write our own Book of Life, acknowledging, savoring and adding to the chapters that are going really well.