The year 5781 is upon us. As we break out our apples and honey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah on Zoom with friends and family, it’s hard to feel like 5780 was anything to be excited about. With the pandemic still looming, something about the upcoming High Holidays are feeling different. The time to ask for forgiveness is here, but it just doesn’t feel the same.
Yom Kippur means atoning for our sins, apologizing for our wrongdoings and starting the New Year with a clean slate. Yet with COVID-19 forcing us inside and isolated, we have had what feels like endless time to sit with our thoughts, going through all the “could have beens” and “shouldn’t have dones” in life. Maybe you’ve been wondering where the significant other from your first summer camp romance is now. Maybe you learned they went to an Ivy League school and became the Jewish doctor of your parents’ dreams. Now maybe you’re wondering why you decided not to go to medical school and instead became a therapist and occasional writer. Or maybe that’s just me.
Whatever you’ve been ruminating on over these past several months, the same questions remain: How do we reflect on the past year and do some good teshuvah (repentance) during this special time on the Jewish calendar when we have had nothing but time to wrack our brains about the what ifs? And during what has been an incredibly difficult time for so many of us, should we even be concerned with beating ourselves up over all our mistakes? How do we go easy on ourselves while also fulfilling the purpose of these holidays? The answer is complicated, yet simple:
Forgive yourself first.
We are still living in unprecedented times. Every day of this pandemic brings new challenges, new things to adapt to, and endless Zoom calls to answer. Maybe back in Rosh Hashanah 5780, you told yourself you would run a marathon this year, but the closest you’ve gotten is watching an entire Netflix series in one day. Maybe you’ve felt like you’ve been a bad friend for not checking in on others while you deal with your own stress. It’s okay. Really, it’s okay.
Before you can sit with your “sins,” you must sit with yourself. Remember that these times are hard, and you are doing the best you can. You woke up today. You read this article. You’re taking this seemingly impossible pandemic one day at a time. Forgiveness means letting go of the expectations you placed on 2020. It means learning to be okay with what is happening here and now, and knowing that what you are doing is enough.
The High Holidays will look different this year, and they should. We’ve never had to ask for forgiveness in our tie-dye loungewear during virtual services. But learning to forgive yourself is the foundation to repairing those relationships you choose to seek recompense for this holiday season. It requires the time to really sit with yourself and differentiate guilt from the sin. And it requires you to reserve a level of empathy just for yourself, knowing that while you’ve made mistakes this year, you’re only human. As I’m sure a Jewish mother is saying somewhere, it is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.
So as we close our computers from virtual services, and break fast with our DoorDash deliveries, we can start to feel a slight ease that we made it through another year. And as the pandemic unfortunately goes on, we cannot forget to go easy on ourselves. Even as a semblance of normalcy comes back into view, take a breath, slow down, and forgive yourself.
Header image design by Grace Yagel. Original image by Maria Voronovich/Getty Images.