Wednesday, September 18, 2013

No such thing as sin: A Yom Kippur Ramble

Yom Kippur is one of my favorite holidays because I believe in reflection. Any holiday that demands we stop our busy lives and think about the past year - where we went right, wrong, and everywhere in between - gets an A in this teacher's book. As a teacher, I've always worked it into my curriculum. Thinking about choices, whether they are our own or those of the characters we are studying, has always been one of my top priorities. Personally, it's sometimes tough to hold myself to the same expectation because I'm always willing to put myself on the back burner, as I think most teachers are. But regardless of how insane life gets, Yom Kippur forces me to press pause and really, honestly, reflect. 

This past Yom Kippur, as I sat in Friday night services with my father, I had a lot to reflect about. I hate my body, I feel simultaneously overjoyed and horrified that I'm in between full-time teaching jobs, I'm worried about money, I'm not sure I can sit still for the entire service and I wish I were still in 7th grade so it was appropriate for me to take a 20-minute bathroom break to apply flavored lip gloss, did I turn the oven off, etc. I wondered where we go when we die, what my kitten thinks about all day, when I'd have kids. I tried sitting with perfect pilates posture, and lasted about 10 minutes. I should catch up on Grey's Anatomy, write more, eat less, run more, drink less, and in the middle of this I tune back in to hear the Rabbi say:

There is no hebrew word for sin. The closest translation in English is "missing the target." 

The Hebrew word "hatat," however, has a clear concrete meaning to go with its abstract one. In the Book of Judges we read about a band of sharpshooters, so trained and talented that every one of them can sling a stone at a hair and not miss (Judges 20:16). The word in this verse that means "miss," yehetu in Hebrew, clearly has the same root as "hatat." "Sin," in Hebrew, means something like "missing the target."--From this site


I just missed the target. 
I just missed the target.
I’m not a TERRIBLE PERSON who deserves punishment/needs absolution.

And that’s a lot easier to process than my usual I’M A TERRIBLE PERSON I CAN’T BELIEVE I F-ED UP YET AGAIN I’LL NEVER GET IT RIGHT I SUCK AT EVERYTHING thought spiral.

Thinking about it as missing the target means even as I was doing things I would later regret, I still had that target in mind. It also means that I was standing on the same field as the archery target that had my goals on it, even if I had terrible aim. Maybe I was running in the opposite direction with my bow and arrow. Maybe I was shooting blind. But at least I was in the same general area as the goal. At least I had it in mind. At least I was on the same field.

If sin is 100% wrong, and there is no Hebrew word for it, then nothing I did this past year was 100% wrong. That means every mistake had a purpose and every regret had a reason. Those mistakes and regrets are mine alone, and I’m not trying to avoid taking responsibility for them. But this makes them seem a lot less futile. It gives my mess-ups a purpose, even if that purpose is me realizing how crappy my aim is as I survey a field full of arrows and an empty target (have I killed the metaphor yet? Probably).

So Shana Tova. Regardless of what religion you are a part of, if you are a part of one at all, I hope you take some time to think about how things have been going for you and reflect. Remember, we all miss the target sometimes. Have a good year, and work on your aim.

In the last year (or so), which targets did you make? Which ones did you miss? 


  1. Thanks for teaching me something new today. Sometimes there is so much wisdom in Judaism -- hello, Shabbat -- it amazes me. I ended my fast by focusing on just one thing that I can do in the next year to "hit the target" and that is to really try and be in the moment as much as I can. Seemed like a fitting resolution given the nature of our holiday vs "read more", "go to bed earlier", etc. Shana tova!

    1. You too! Thanks so much for the response! I can't take credit... Rabbi J. taught me this. I admire your focus. I tend towards the "OMG LET ME FOCUS ON EVERYTHING POSSIBLE RIGHT NOW NOW NOW NOW" which doesn't end well.

  2. Loved this:
    a) because it means someone listened to something a rabbi said ;)
    b) because it's so so true
    c) because my brain works that way too (and also, what DOES your cat think about all day?)
    d) because when I can't focus on prayer during standing periods I move into a relatively innocuous tree pose

    kol hakavod, m'dear.