What do you see when you look in the mirror? We each have our own default tendencies. Some of us naturally search for our faults and imperfections, often with a hypercritical eye, while others of us would rather admire ourselves, and gloss over the rest. Sometimes we vacillate between the two, depending on our mood, or how we are perceiving our lives.
The Hebrew month of Elul, leading up to the High Holy Days, is really about self-reflection. Throughout the month we are presented with a spiritual mirror, and given the urgent task of placing our souls in front of the glass to look at who we really are. We are taught that we write the narrative of our lives with our choices and actions, especially those that impact our relationships with each other and with God. Who we really are is the sum of what we do.
I would like to suggest that when we look in the mirror, we embrace the totality of who we are. We need to acknowledge the choices that we regret, and learn from them so as to do better in the year to come. We need to find our imperfections and work to improve ourselves. Yet we also need to remember that as human beings, we will always be imperfect, and that's also OK. We need to remember that we are far more than the sum of our mistakes, for we do much good in the world, or at least we try.
If we are going to be honest with ourselves, which in my opinion is the only way to grow spiritually as human beings, then we must look past our default tendencies for self-reflection. So for those of us who focus on admiring ourselves, let's make sure to pay attention to where and how we can grow and improve. Or to put it a little differently, let's strive to recognize that our time here is limited, and is a gift from God. We have the ability to shape how we move through the time that remains in meaningful and life-affirming ways, all we have to do is act. On the other hand, those of us who tend towards self-criticism can look into the mirror with a little more self-compassion, and remind ourselves that what we see is the very image of God. We can embrace ourselves, and celebrate the greatness that shines from within.
What will you see the next time you look in the mirror? And how will your reflection inspire you to act?
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras