This Elul, Forgive Yourself First

It’s a trend I’ve seen across the spectrum of the humanity I encounter: We are never doing a good enough job for ourselves.

As parents, we fail. It doesn’t matter how many boo-boos we kiss, how many dinners we make, how many books we read or tears we wipe away.

We still feel that we are failing, we still focus on the time we forgot about our son’s preschool chanukah chagiga, his whispered words at bedtime cutting into our heart,

“All the other mommies were there but you, Mommy.”

(that couldn’t possibly have been true, by the way, but it doesn’t matter. It’s how he felt, so it’s a fail, a big Mommy fail)

As spouses, we fail. It doesn’t matter how many times we smiled at each other, how many thoughtful texts were sent, how many slights were forgiven.

We still feel that we are too selfish, not mevater enough, never going to resemble any of the stories or anecdotes in any of the books that have ever been published on the topic of how to have a good marriage.

As Jews, we fail. It doesn’t matter how sincere our intentions are, how much we might want to connect sometimes, how many mitzvos we actually did, how many acts of kindness.

We still feel that we don’t have enough kavannah, we don’t do the mitzvos the right way, we don’t believe enough, we don’t contribute meaningfully to the klal.

Well, cut it out. Cut it OUT. I mean it.

This is a month of redemption, of forgiveness, and it is oh-so tempting to spend this time contemplating all the ways we’ve failed, to ruminate on our pathetic inability to do anything, to beat ourselves up for not even contemplating things and not even utilizing the opportunity that is Elul.

I’m telling you right now that’s not the way to do it. I know because I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work.

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You know what does work? Giving yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it! Look at you, you’re even taking self-criticism seriously and doing your best at it! We just have to turn things around a little, and look at the flip side of the self-criticism.

As a parent, are you beating yourself up because you let your kid down in some way? Maybe lost it at them?

Bright side: You are teaching them how to be flexible, and how everyone is human and that it’s okay to mess up, it’s not the end of the world. And then you can show them how to apologize.

That’s huge!

As a spouse, are you beating yourself up because you get annoyed about some idiosyncracy your spouse has and it makes you act in a completely irrational manner?

Bright side: You are in a real relationship and can choose to show your spouse that you love them even though they are annoying sometimes (don’t worry, I’m sure you are too). You can practice unconditional love.

Also huge!

As a Jew, are you beating yourself up because you are never doing Judaism “enough” or the “right” way?

Bright side: You care about doing the right thing, you want to connect. And you get to love yourself and let yourself be human and not do things 100% most of the time and that’s okay! It’s really okay!


This Elul, I want all of us to forgive ourselves for being human, to grant ourselves redemption, and to fall in love with the parts of ourselves that we don’t shine a light on often enough. We are amazing, you guys! Amazing people! High fives all around!