Indeed, Judaism believes that human beings are fundamentally good. We all possess a Divine soul. We are all born pure. In the history of mankind, we have yet to find an evil baby. Thus, instead of striving to change ourselves, all that is needed is that we become ourselves and heed the calling of our soul to actualize our unique, G-d given skills and talents, and serve as G-d's agents of goodness and kindness in this world.Rabbi Allouche
These are days of introspection and change. In the poignant words of Maimonides: Despite the fact that Teshuvah, returning to G-d, is always timely, during these Ten Days of Teshuvah, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, it is exceedingly appropriate.”
But dare I ask, can people really change?
In France, where I was born, the common answer to this question is a resounding ‘no.’ There, most people will tell you that, “le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose” – “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
In American society, many agree with the French, but they would apply this idea only to adults, or at least, to the elderly. “You can’t teach an old dog, new tricks,” they would exclaim.
In Israel, this perspective is also common. To make their case, some people may even evoke the words of Jeremiah: “Can the Cushite change his skin, Or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23).
Nonetheless, Judaism’s take is refreshingly different.
“The topic of change is, maybe, good for politics,” my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, shared with me a few years ago. “But when it comes to people, the question of “can people really change,” ought to be replaced with the question of “should people really change?”
Indeed, Judaism believes that human beings are fundamentally good. We all possess a Divine soul. We are all born pure. In the history of mankind, we have yet to find an evil baby. Thus, instead of striving to change ourselves, all that is needed is that we become ourselves and heed the calling of our soul to actualize our unique, G-d given skills and talents, and serve as G-d’s agents of goodness and kindness in this world.
Bonnie Ware, an acclaimed speaker and author, who was a palliative care nurse in Great Britain for decades, recently wrote a moving piece about her experience attending to thousands of end-of-life patients. (https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying/)
“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” she wrote. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.”
As a Rabbi, I often see this phenomenon of “change” in people, and it pains me. Some people turn into doctors when they really wanted to be lawyers. Others, turn into racing business-men when they really wanted to be settled family-men. And some turn into a pathetic version of their neighbor instead of a becoming a version of their true selves.
Interestingly, the paramount regret that most of these patients shared was that they wish they “had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.”
As we prepare ourselves for Yom Kippur with self-reflection, introspection, and desires to “change” ourselves in all sorts of ways, let us remember that all that G-d asks of us is to simply return to our true selves, and realize our own unique talents, skills, and purpose.
During this upcoming year, let us live the unique life that we were given. Let us actualize the unique purpose that we were charged with. And let us become the unique person that our Creator wants us to be. Amen.