Wisdom in the Strangest Places
As much as we see God as a loving father who is gentle and forgiving, we cannot forget that He is also the king and judge. While we try to sweeten God’s judgement and pray that He judges us like a father, we need to remember that we are in awe as we stand before the king.
I am a bit of a Ted talks junkie. If you don’t know what Ted talks are, that is fine. You can look it up. I find many of the talks motivational and inspirational. Some offer excellent advice and sometimes that advice comes from the most unusual of sources. Here is what I am referring to.
I watched a Ted talk given by Monica Lewinsky. If you don’t know who she is, she is the woman who President Clinton had an inappropriate relationship with when she was an intern in the White House. She was in her early twenties when it occurred back in 1995-97. As I was watching, there was a short description she gave that really struck me profoundly as I was listening.
My commentary will follow her words:
Let me paint a picture for you. It is September 1998, I’m sitting in a windowless room inside the office of the independent council underneath humming fluorescent lights. I’m listening to the sound of my voice, my voice on surreptitiously taped phone calls that a supposed friend had taped a year before. I am here because I’ve been legally required to personally authenticate all 20 hours of taped conversation. For the past 8 months, the mysterious content of these tapes has hung like a sword of Damocles over my head. I mean, who can remember what they said a year ago? Scared and mortified, I listen, I listen as I prattle on about the flotsam and jetsam of the day; listen as I confess my love of the president, and of course; my heartbreak. I listen to my sometimes chatty, sometimes girlish sometimes silly self—being cruel, unforgiving, uncouth. Listen deeply, deeply ashamed. Listen to the worst version of myself, to a self that I don’t even recognize.
I’m sitting in a windowless room inside the office of the independent council—Judaism believes that after we die we will be sitting in a “courtroom” in front of the true independent council, namely God.
I’m listening to the sound of my voice, my voice on surreptitiously taped phone calls that a supposed friend had taped a year before. As we sit in front of God’s courtroom, the evidence that will be presented is a recording of our lives. Perhaps we didn’t think about it as our lives were progressing, but everything we do and say is recorded. Everything.
I am here because I’ve been legally required to personally authenticate all 20 hours of taped conversation. As part of our prayers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we say that each person stands before God in judgement and your personal signature is on the document. It is all true; everything has been personally authenticated by you. There is no way around it. Also, it will not be 20 hours of authenticated testimony—-it will be an entire year and ultimately an entire lifetime.
For the past 8 months, the mysterious content of these tapes has hung like a sword of Damocles over my head. I mean, who can remember what they said a year ago? No, you can’t remember everything you said a year ago. How about 2 years ago? Or 5 or 25 years ago? It should send chills down your body.
Scared and mortified, I listen, I listen as I prattle on about the flotsam and jetsam of the day; listen as I confess my love of the president, and of course; my heartbreak. I listen to my sometimes chatty, sometimes girlish sometimes silly self—being cruel, unforgiving, uncouth. Yes, it is scary to stand in front of the Creator of the world and watch and listen as your entire lifetime is replayed. To listen to all the silly things you said, all the gossip and slander, all the inappropriate and rude comments, all the fighting and pettiness, all the obnoxiousness and lies.
Listen deeply, deeply ashamed. Listen to the worst version of myself, to a self that I don’t even recognize. It is the most penetrating shame to be standing before your maker and your whole life completely exposed without anyone to blame or anyone to turn to but yourself. There is nowhere to run to or hide. The self you are watching can sometime be literally unbelievable. How could I? Is that really me? I said that? I could’ve been so much better….
My take-away from this whole piece is not that we need to be terrified and trembling all the time. But we do need to reflect upon the awesome potential that God imbued in each and every one of us. One of the saddest things is wasted potential.
When standing before God, it is not as much about all the things we shouldn’t have done or said. It is about the lost opportunity. God gave us a gift called time and endowed us each with unique qualities, circumstances and potential. We are supposed to wake up each morning and maximize our time—use what God gave us to make the world a better place, to be closer to Him.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur urge us to take a hard look at our lives and assess where we are holding. Are we selling ourselves short? Is there more we can be doing? Are we putting in an honest effort to utilize all the tools and skills that God gave us? The key is honesty—to make a true and honest self- assessment.
On the flip side of God as king, God is also loving parent. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that the world is a challenging place. He knows that no one is perfect, we all make mistakes and distance ourselves from the path. He knows that human beings can be cruel, bitter, angry, obnoxious, crude, rude and spiteful. He can forgive all that if we acknowledge that we are sorry and we will try to be better. We will try to live up to the Divine soul planted within.
The bottom line. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we look at our past year, we express regret for our mistakes and take pride in our achievements. Most importantly, we promise to keep growing, utilizing our gifts and moving closer and closer to our true potential.