Elul Writing: The Notes in my Pockets

PROMPT 12: The beloved R’ Simcha Bunim is perhaps most famous for using the pockets of his garments in order to embody the paradox of our existence.  As Buber recounts, Rebbe Simcha Bunim would teach:

Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that they can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. 

When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “For my sake was the world created.”

But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “I am but dust and ashes.”

What two truths do you need to hold in your pockets as you approach the new year? Perhaps they are in conflict with each other (e.g. you are happiest when you’re helping others and you need to practice saying no). What does it feel like in your body to move through the world carrying paradox with you?

This has been an unsettling week. In the past few days, I have received news about people I care about, news that is, frankly, shocking. Two people I am connected to are involved or suspected to be involved in serious wrongdoing, as perpetrators. I do not intend to write about the events themselves, at least not publicly, because in neither case is it my story to tell. I will say instead that these revelations have shaken me up and forced me to consider a new way to think about the truths in my pockets, the sometimes-conflicting core beliefs that guide my thoughts.

It rocks my foundations to think that people I know, or think I know, might have done terrible things. It is hard to absorb. At the same time I am praying that the accusations are untrue, I am wondering if they could be. I literally shudder to imagine it, and yet it is also hard to imagine that the accusation came from nothing. What kind of person does this kind of thing? What kind of person invents this kind of story? How can this be happening? It doesn’t add up.

If the accusations are true, what happens to the decades-long affection that I have felt for this person? Was I wrong to feel it? Are there sins that are unforgivable? If the accusations are untrue, is it a sin to give them consideration?

Near my home town, there are two billboards that have always caught my attention. They say, “Every saint has a past,” and, “Every sinner has a future.” Although the taxonomy of the phrasing is decidedly not Jewish, these signs contain a truth that is echoed in Jewish thought. They suggest that even the worst offenses do not tell the full story of a person. This is what I am clinging to as I wait for the truth to become clear, and they suggest one of the notes in my pockets:

All life is precious and t’shuvah is always possible.

The other note?

You never know what demons are inside a person.

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