Years ago, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben told the story of a little girl who learned to tie her shoes for the first time. After a moment of triumphant celebration, she got sad, almost despondent. Her mystified parents asked why she wasn’t happier. The little girl acknowledged that she was proud of her achievement, but she sobbed, “Now I’ll have to tie my own shoes for the rest of my life!”
The rabbi deftly related this story to the central theme of the High Holy Days: a lifelong commitment to reflection and the pursuit of perfection of our character. Once we learn that we have a moral duty to choose right from wrong, it’s like saying, “Now I have to be good for the rest of my life!”
What a bummer! It’s like accepting the need to follow a no-exceptions healthy diet forever. Well, maybe it’s not quite that bad.
Most theologians agree that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, and we should not expect that of ourselves.
There’s room for moments of self-indulgence and occasional lapses in judgment or will. That’s why forgiveness is so important in all major religions. Christians, Jews, and Muslims share a common belief that all humans are works-in-progress and that self-reflection, repentance, and resolve are critical to personal reform.
We should, however, strive toward perfection and exercise our free will in the direction of goodness.
The challenge for those who want to be better is to find a happy medium between being too hard on ourselves and being too easy. At one extreme are self-hate, self-contempt, and a sense of hopelessness; at the other are self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, and complacency.
The key is to do our best, to care about and devote conscious energy to continuous self-improvement.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.