It has been a chaotic summer in some ways. Our lovely days of summer have been tempered with disruptions, some large and some small. We have grieved for loss of life in mass shootings in public spaces. We have witnessed two national political conventions. Some of us are divided by politics, by views not shared neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend. Some of us worry about the future – of our country, of our world, of our personal lives. We might vacillate between worrying and feeling content. Sometimes we feel as if we are falling, as if this world is falling apart.
The High Holidays remind us that we can take time to realize that with every fall is the chance to rise up again.
Our tradition teaches us: “A righteous person falls seven times and rises up again” (Proverbs 24:16). Seven is a significant number in the Jewish tradition. There are seven days of creation, seven days in a week. At a wedding, the bride circles the groom seven times. And there are seven times seven days of counting for the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Seven is life giving. It is a number full of strength and health and hope for the future.
Why would our tradition teach us that falling seven times is a righteous act? And why should we see the act of falling as a positive thing rather than as a total failure?
Perhaps by now each of us has learned that finding success is not a straight path. It is circuitous, and arduous. But we may tend to judge a person negatively who falls down repeatedly. We might even judge ourselves when we repeatedly fall down.
Instead our tradition encourages us to see a person who has fallen as a righteous person. A person who fails and redirects his path and rises up again has the courage to make teshuvah – to change and learn from our mistakes. We can recognize our failures and we can feel relief that we have another opportunity to rise up again. We get another try.
We all have experienced the pain of falling, of failing, of knowing that someone is angry with us or is disappointed in us. This is a human trait. And we have, perhaps, these days also experienced the chaos and worry that our nation, our world, is falling.
Each Rosh Hashanah we allow ourselves the flexibility to show compassion for ourselves and for others in our lives. Each Rosh Hashanah we give ourselves another opportunity to accept ourselves as flawed and to accept other people as flawed. We understand the power of forgiveness, of forgiving ourselves and others and allowing us to have another try.
And so, let us take these Days of Awe as our opportunity to admit when we have fallen, dust ourselves off, and rise up again. At this time of the Jewish New Year, may each of us rise up again with renewed strength and courage – for ourselves, for our country and for our world.
May 5777 be a time of peace and health for each of us, for Israel and for all people. L’shana Tova Tikateivu.
Andrea Steinberger serves as rabbi at the Hillel at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.