I still go to my same childhood synagogue with my mother on the High Holidays, mainly to see old friends, but I’d get a lot of guilt if I didn’t go. What suggestions do you have for getting my mother to shut up about what everybody’s wearing and whatever judgmental gossip is going around? The irony of her non-stop stream of criticism when you’re technically supposed to be repenting is lost on her. Participating in the service only works a few minutes at a time.
Ears Falling Off
Dear Ears Falling Off,
Since neither irony nor subtlety is working (they rarely do), I’m afraid you’re going to have to be direct. This will induce guilt, of course, the burden you’re there in the first place to avoid, but what would Yom Kippur be without it? Ponder the stealthy ways of the conscience after explaining to Mom that you have a headache (without saying why!), and, you know, in case it’s a brain tumor, you want to use your temple time to silently (so you can concentrate) reckon and atone. And forgive. Don’t forget to forgive.
The other day in the supermarket, I knocked something off a shelf, and when I reached to pick it up and put it back, I snagged a hole in my brand new sweater. I felt like I was just trying to do the right thing and got punished for it. I realize this sounds silly, but usually around this time of year I reflect on how I can be a better person, and instead I’m wondering why I should bother. Is self-improvement supposed to be its own reward, in a universe that couldn’t care less?
Dear Holey Unholy,
Have you considered that maybe the sweater didn’t suit you as well as you imagined, and that most credit cards refund the cost of damaged purchases within ninety days? If you’re looking for karma, as with any other spiritual belief, you sometimes have to dig or massage the data a bit. Which shouldn’t be too difficult for you, considering how you’re already reading way too much into this. Bad things do happen to good people, yes. Frequently and ditto the reverse. Nevertheless, your grocery store mishap was plain old clumsiness, a minor curse that falls under “nobody’s perfect”.
To answer your actual question, though: I think we better ourselves mostly for the people around us, and a little so that when our best-laid schemes gang agley, as they aft do, we can trust we did our best.
May you be inscribed in the book of life,