There's a song that's included in the children's Yom Kippur service at the synagogue where I work, as I imagine in many more around the world, as well, titled It's Better to be Better. The staff and I (and I'm sure the congregants who attended the children's service) have had it in our heads and often jokingly will respond to requests or comments with, "it's better to be better!"
But let's take a step back, examine the layers, and think about that idea for a moment. The Jewish High Holy Days are spent reflecting on the past year and praying for forgiveness for wrongdoings that may have been committed intentionally or unknowingly. I have to admit, sitting in services next my father, it felt good to atone. Okay, good, may not be the right term to use, but as I walked out, I was refreshed. Through guided prayer, whether I deserved it or not, I had been granted a clean slate (and even had on a new pretty white dress on to symbolically demonstrate that). But at this point in my life, I've been around long enough to know that the shiny feeling of "newness" quickly wears off. It's a safe assumption (just take a look around at the world we live in) to say that the vast majority of people aren't always seeking ways to be better, even though it is clearly stated and drilled into our children's minds.
As I was lying in bed wide awake last night (blame the teething infant), my mind kept coming back to the idea that for whatever reason, this is the year I will work to ensure the newness lasts a little longer, and the desire to better myself actually comes to fruition in tangible ways. Admittedly, I am not the type of person who lives my life striving for perfection, and I'm not the type of person who is always trying to improve myself.
Sure, I try my hardest at work and certainly am trying every day in every way to be the best parent and partner I can be, but I humbly admit that both of those occur too passively. I, by no means, actively try to achieve perfection. To me, perfection is weighing. It's intimidating. It's immeasurable and impossible to achieve and scary.
However, shouldn't it be enough to simply try to be better? A better parent? A better friend? A better partner? A better colleague?
Take a step back, examine the layers.
It's not only enough. It's doable. It's tangible. It's achievable. And far less scary.
You see, Judaism teaches us that during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and thereafter, we should constantly be striving to improve ourselves through our interactions with other people. In our dealings with others, we are taught that kindness, empathy, and thoughtfulness truly matter and most certainly make a difference.
As the year 5777 opens, I am asking you to join me in making a change. I'm asking you to join me in taking a step back. I'm asking you to join me so that we can better ourselves in order to make this a better world for our children. I'm asking you to join me in engaging in more meaningful interactions with others, less snide remarks (guilty), less eye rolling (yes, side eyes count), less gossiping (are we still in high school?), and less apathy (we need each other, trust me). Instead, I'm asking you to actually care when you ask how someone is, pay attention when people directly or indirectly ask for help, and present your authentic self to the world.
Recently, there has been a terrifying epidemic of young adults in our community committing suicide. While the details aren't necessary here, I can't help but think that if we each take the time to listen a little more and practice empathy, we can change the course of this trend. One can only hope.
After all, it is better to be better, right?