Who is a G-d like you,
And sending away evil?
G-d will take us back in love;
You will cover up our wrongs,
You will hurl all our sins
Into the deep of the sea.
Forever, G-d, your word stands firm in heaven.
Traditionally, during this part of the holiday we come down to the river to "deal with the past year." The prayer we just read was very explicit – put those sins on a piece of bread and send them down the river. Bye-bye…
But, really, that's not the way most of us "deal" with the past year. We try to figure out how to get over unhealthy attachments from the past. We grapple with what have we done wrong, who has wronged us, and how we can move forward. That's heavy stuff and important work. But I want to suggest that focusing only on what we are "moving on from," gnawing on this till our gums bleed, prevents us from looking forward. Yes, it can be easier to look at the past than to tackle the future. The past can be dissected, weighed, and evaluated. We can replay past conversations infinitum, get angry about missed opportunities, and also take pride in our successes. But the future, even limited to "just" next year, is nebulous and fuzzy. We worry about failure or choosing the wrong path. The enormity (and diffuseness) of deciding how we want to live next year can be daunting. Unequivocally declaring that we are going to be upstanding and righteous people in the coming year is a hard thing to do. It is so easy to imagine so many ways in which we might not live up to that challenge. None of us want to set ourselves up for failure.
But there may be an easier way – a way to ease into such declarations for the coming year. Take a moment. Paint a happy image in your mind, one where you are in it – say something simple like walking down a city street, laughing over something with a friend. Stop! What is happening in this picture? In this picture you are doing the smallest thing: laughing with a friend. But that small thing is adding a measure of joy to the world. That joy depends on your presence in the story. Whether you are the one saying the funny thing in your story or the one laughing in response, you are necessary to the story. Take yourself out and there is no one to laugh at the other person's tale. Take yourself out and there is no one to share with. No matter what you are feeling about this past year, no matter the confusion you may feel when trying to map-out a path for the next year: you do have the power to create, add and appreciate goodness in the world. It may be in little ways. It may be the sharing of a laugh. It may be picking up a piece of litter or it could be saying hi to someone at services you feel awkward around. We all need to see that there are so many tiny, incremental, but utterly doable actions, that we can take in our every-day lives that will add goodness to the world. Taken one at a time each action is not daunting! And they do add up. Each good action we take makes taking the next one that much easier.
Throughout the next year, G-d gives us many opportunities to make little choices about how to see the world and thus how to add to it. We don't have to be frightened of having to make huge declarations of big changes because really, we can start with the little things.
- Daniel C. Robbins