COMMENTARY: The Pursuit of Human Perfection

Jews all over the world are in the midst of a 10-day period called the High Holy Days. It starts with Rosh Hashanah, a celebration of a new year, and ends with Yom Kippur, a solemn day of atonement.

The overriding theme is the pursuit of human perfection and the obligation of each person to continually assess and improve his or her character, or as Mordecai Kaplan put it, “to seek reconstruction of our personalities in accordance with the highest ethical possibilities of human nature.”

It’s more than making New Year’s resolutions. The idea is to pause from our daily lives and sit in objective judgment of ourselves, to examine the state of our souls, to hold ourselves accountable, and to acknowledge any gaps between our conscience and our conduct, between the standards we profess and the actions we perform.

We may not always have the moral strength to bridge the gap between our ideals and our actions, but we have the moral duty to try. Our sins and shortcomings are compounded when we ignore or accept them.

Jews are given four specific tasks: 1) reflect, 2) repent, 3) seek forgiveness, and 4) forgive those who ask forgiveness. Although the process is clothed in religious ritual, these concepts are equally powerful in a purely secular context.

Religionists and secularists agree that humanity is unique among living creatures in the capacity to understand good and evil and to choose between them. Whether we call it morality or ethics, whether we think in terms of our souls or our character, all who have pondered the purpose and potential of human life conclude that a virtuous life is the best life.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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