Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who Am I?- Becoming the people we wish to be

“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

-Jim Bouton

As I took up running to help lose 100 pounds, I wondered when I would actually be a “runner”. Was it running my first race? My first half-marathon? Beating a certain time? Eventually, I became a runner. I ran marathons, I had a blog about it, and spoke, read and wrote about it whenever I could. I ran six days a week, and then seven. I ran in the snow and rain, and I ran when I was sick and when I was fasting. I had become a runner. I find myself wondering whether that was a good thing.

Where is the line between merely doing something and being someone who does that thing? What does it mean to identify with an act so strongly that you are not sure where you end and it begins?

As with everyone else, I sometimes do things wrong. There are days when I don’t feel like davening with a minyan, or davening at all. There are times when I am inconsiderate and hurtful to the people I love the most. Who am I at those moments? Is there a moment when I cross the line from a person who davens poorly to becoming a bad davener? From sometimes acting like a jerk to being one? The Yamim Noraim in general, and tekiat shofar and teshuva in particular, seem to be about making this distinction. God, as it were, asks us to look inside and figure out who we really are, and to think about how we can prevent our actions to go from being a verb to being an adjective. The shofar is a primal cry from the inside, from where our deepest sense of being can be felt. Who am I on the inside, on the real inside that only God, and possibly myself see? This is followed by the time of confession and teshuva, when we are given a chance to examine whether our actions and attitudes are forming the kind of habits that will turn our behavior into almost permanent traits.
Teshuva becomes a challenge to the degree that we allow our misguided actions and attitudes become addictions. When, to paraphrase Jim Bouton, we stop holding them, and they grab hold of us. The gemara in masechet Sukkah speaks of the yetzer hara as being as thin and light as a single strand of hair and as massive and unmovable as a mountain. It starts out as the former, but, unchecked can become as permanent as the mightiest mountain. These Yamim Noraim, days of awe, are, in fact, quite awesome. They give us the opportunity to break away from habit, of both the physical and mental variety, even those that have become addictions, and to think about how we can behave in a way that will more permanently lead us to becoming who we truly want to be.

I hope to use the long hours that I will be in shul to look inside and think about who I wish to be. After a summer where I got away from running, I am slowly getting back out there. I hope to get back in shape, but I hope to not become a runner. There are so many more important things that I want to be.


  1. Self Help: becoming the person you wish to be

    Mussar: becoming the person the Torah tells you you were meant to be.

    But I liked everything after the title.