Resolutions for Change

Professor Elhanan Marvit, Director of Administrative Services of the Touro Graduate School of Social Work, shares his thoughts for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement

September 22, 2015

As I fast, confess and make resolutions for change on Yom Kippur, I listen to the reading of the entire Book of Jonah.  As the final blessing on the book is chanted, I ask myself the ultimate Yom Kippur question - how real is my repentance?  Wasn’t I here last year?  Didn’t I repent last year?  How will this year’s resolutions for change made in the synagogue on this holy day withstand the upcoming year’s stress and strains? 

The reading of this book epitomizes the adage that, “Change is not easy.” Embarking on a journey of change is intensely difficult. There are both external and internal obstacles to my engagement in the process of repentance. Breaking an inappropriate habit or an undesirable behavior pattern is a challenging road complete with U- turns and curves.

Jonah begins his journey of change as a dis-empathic messenger.  He attempts to run from his mission because he knew that the people of Nineveh were incapable of change.  They could not truly repent, and he was certain that they would only fail and backslide.

The King of Nineveh decreed that the people and their cattle must fast, confess and resolve to change their ways. Due to their quick decision to change and their transparent motivation to prevent punishment, Jonah, himself a recent penitent from the “belly of the great fish,” was unable to accept their change as real. He was so convinced of the inevitability of the city’s backsliding that he camped out on the arid and hot plains of Nineveh, awaiting their failed repentance.

As Jonah suffers in the “unsheltered heat” of the arid Nineveh plains, G-d teaches him a lesson about judging others and about empathy.  As Jonah suffers in the heat, God offers him two important lessons among the many take-away messages of the Book: judgment as to what is acceptable repentance is reserved for G-d and G-d alone, and G-d is a compassionate creator who loves his less than perfect creations. The Almighty begins His acceptance of His creations’ repentance “where they are at”; and as such, views repentance as an ongoing journey and not as a destination.

Wishing you and yours a meaningful Yom Kippur fast!