Breaking Bad and Getting Good

Is the key to a good life found in following the rules? For example, consider the rules of suburbia: study hard in good schools, work hard at our professions, care for our bodies and obey the laws. We assure ourselves that if we live by these rules, we are likely to succeed. Some of us have suffered the consequence of not paying careful attention or forgetting the rules, stumbling over the laws, or erring badly in our practices – even if unintentionally. The discovery of such errors may bring adverse consequences to our livelihood, personal lives or health. How do we find comfort when our own fallibility trips up our preconceived notions of how life should proceed?

A primary resource on the topic begins this week’s Torah reading.  An angry and frustrated Moses has pleaded with God to allow his passage into the Promised Land. Moses failed to follow God’s instructions earlier by hitting a rock to draw water when all he needed to do was call out. Moses is not only denied entry but is then told by God not to raise the issue again. Further, Moses is instructed to ascend to where he can see the land he may not enter. God may be telling Moses to fully experience disappointment; to acknowledge and accept is the key to moving on.

Despite his outrage or perhaps to channel his misery, Moses employs his oratory skills and turns to the multitudes that will cross into the land. Moses gives them instruction and warning. They are advised to use their senses of sight and hearing and obey the rules so that they may successfully acquire their new homeland. To make the point he employs two of the most well-known textual readings of Judaism, the Shema Yisrael (Listen up Israel) and the Aseret Dibrot (Ten Commandments). Simply put, the two lessons are pay careful attention and obey the laws.

Moses takes his own disappointment and frustration and channels it into a methodology and teaching for the next generation to use. The advice still works as a coping mechanism for those who have a sense that their life plan was derailed by their own failures. If we can’t obtain a second chance for ourselves, we might find some satisfaction in teaching the next generation to use their senses and carefully obey the rules. The Torah teaches that comfort and consolation begin with the internal mechanisms of acknowledgement and acceptance.  Recovery from disappointment may be found in teaching from experience.

In the seven weeks approaching the High Holidays, a time of repentance, we must first acknowledge and accept the errors of our past before we can consider improvements in our lives.