The last wail of the shofar has been sounded. Our prayers for a healthy and good year ahead have been delivered. And those leftover bagels and cream cheese from the break fast? They became your office lunch for the next three days. The High Holidays are over — back to work, back to school, back to business as usual.
As Yom Kippur now fades into a memory replaced by the exigencies of our Blackberry- and iPhone-driven lives, those vows we made during prayer services to do better and be better are at risk of fading, too. C’est la vie. It’s human nature.
But one prayer we recited on Yom Kippur still stands in my mind days later — the 44 confessions that constitute the Al Chet. It is significant not only because it accurately reflects the gamut of our fallibilities and shortcomings, but because we recited it 10 times throughout the 25-hour fasting period. Maybe the sages who authored this prayer knew something about human psychology —the more frequently we repeat something, the likelier we are to remember it. Meditate on our errant ways of the past year enough times and perhaps we will better stick to our new year’s resolutions long after the last apple has been dipped in honey.
But there’s another reason why the Al Chet still resonates. Of all the transgressions we confessed to in this prayer, none was mentioned more frequently than those committed by our tongue — through foolish talk and vulgar talk; evil talk and lying; false denial, tale bearing and insincere confession.
In all, 11 different ways that speech can hurt us and harm others. That careless language is so easy to indulge in is the reason why I believe we are reminded of it so many times. In a society where trash-talking reality TV commands outsized attention and influence on our lives, what incentive is there for us to show restraint and thought in our own daily discourse?
Enter the Al Chet to remind us that as Jews, we don’t take our cues from celebrity culture. Indeed, the struggle to guard our tongues itself can be seen as a metaphor for the larger struggle of being a good Jew. Both are difficult, both demand discipline, both set high moral standards for our conduct. But by raising the bar on our speech, our behavior and our character throughout the rest of the year, we are acknowledging our commitment to the vows we made just days ago.
And how best to remain faithful to those vows when life gets in the way? Here’s a suggestion. Write down your top three new year’s resolutions on a piece of paper. Insert it into your Passover Haggadah. As you flip through the Haggadah come next March, you’ll stumble upon the note you wrote to yourself six months prior, affording the opportunity to review your progress, acknowledge your accomplishments or get back on track if you’ve strayed from the course.
What better way to honor your commitment to change while connecting in a personal way to two of our major holidays, which are bound together in similar themes of renewal, rebirth and re-dedication.
Lorne Opler is a freelance writer based in Toronto.