Monday, September 20, 2010

Striving to Regret

This year's Kol Nidre service was especially meaningful for me. There's a difference between attending a service because you know you're expected to be there, and actually going and feeling like you were meant to be there--that you're in the right place. I went by myself to a minyan at Beth Jacob, a modern Orthodox shul here in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles; it was called "I Wish I Got More Out of Services," arranged by Michael Borkow, who articulated one of the most interesting ideas over the course of the evening.

In introducing the Ma'ariv, he suggested that one of the most meaningful lessons we can learn from Yom Kippur--or, rather, that we should take the time to consider during Yom Kippur--is how important it is that we strive to regret. And then he took it one step further, and suggested that we should strive for the sensitivity that would allow us to regret.

On its face, it looks and sounds like crazy talk. All sorts of psychologists and self-help books will tell us that living with regret can be lethal. But the trick is to see regret not as a final product, but as part of the process that allows us to truly atone--a place through which we must pass on our way to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and to know G-d. Perhaps regret is the process that allows us to become more human. We bask in the raw emotion that we experience when we allow ourselves to feel regret. Regret breeds remorse, and remorse creates a deeper sense of our own infinite responsibility to others.

Regret, Borkow reminded us, cannot be the stopping point. We are not cut out for a life lived under the shadow of one long shriek of regret. I recently had a conversation with someone about this very idea. I told him there are things in my life--decisions, behavior, actions--that I regret. He told me that he had no regrets. And which of us was right? Which the better human?

Regret functioning as an end point for me, as something better left untapped for him. I suppose we had both missed the mark, which rested somewhere in the movement between our two approaches. It's alway about the ellipses, isn't it?