We all have a tendency to be hard on ourselves- to be aware of our own failings
“I didn’t exercise over vacation”
“I ate WAY too much last night!”
“I weigh too much”
These self-condemnations lead, in general, to lack of action, rather than attaining our goals of self-improvement. So society (at least the psychologists) tell us: “You are OK as you are”. These have lead to all sorts of inspirational songs. "You are perfect" etc.....
But is the serial murderer also telling himself “I’m OK”? Can we really believe “I’m OK”?
After all, there is a flip side, too. As much as we may tell ourselves that we are OK as we are, society still honors the athelete who attains success at great sacrifice. Our women’s magazines will hold aloft that inspiring story of the couple who adopted 10 kids, and the clothes catalogues do not post photos of size 20 models.
I have a lending library of English books in my house. One of the books is Sarah Rigler’s Emuna with Love and Chicken Soup, about the incredible Henny Machlis, who regularly hosted 150 people for shabbat each week, and who extended love and hospitality to all she came in contact with. Most women return the book with comments about how inspiring it was. But a few women react differently. “Gee, I could NEVER do that. It is so far beyond me….”
[Caveat: I am bringing in Jewish sources
(because that is what I am familiar with),
but you can take these lessons and apply them,
no matter what your belief (or lack thereof.)]
This month is the Jewish month of Elul, the month leading up to the Jewish New Year and the day of Atonement (“Yom Kippur”). And we are expected to try and improve ourselves in some way.
But if ‘I am OK as I am”, why should I change? And if I should be a perfectly righteous person, how can I say “I’m OK”? How should we view this dichotomy of ideas?
The word “ELUL” (remember, that Jewish month) is spelled (inHebrew) alef-lamed-vav-Lamed. These letters are also the first letters (in order) of the Hebrew phrase “Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li"), which is Song of Songs 6:1-4. Loosely translated, it means "I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine". Now many see the Song of Songs as a simple love song. So how did it end up in scriptures? Because it is also an allegory of the love between man and his creator. Therefore, say our ancient sages, we can see that ELUL is a good time to work on ourselves and draw closer to G-d’s expectations of us.
However, Rabbi Leff, the Rabbi of our Moshav, points out that the first word is “ani” (I)! If we want to improve, we first need to know our “I”. What are my strengths? What am I capable of? What are the things that realistically are limiting us?
So as I see it, when we enter a (any) period where we want to improve, we need to know our strengths. Yes, “I AM OK… I don’t need to be perfect”, but I am also capable of SO much MORE!! I have capabilities, and with these gifts that I have come a responsibility. A responsibility to improve. For my family. For the world. But especially for myself. The moment we realize what we are capable of, we realize that staying in a static state is not enough. I do not need to be perfect. But no, “I am OK” is NOT enough. Because you are capable of SO much more!!