Monday, June 27, 2022 -
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‘I can only deal with the hand I was dealt’


Never in my memory have the events of the day so tightly highlighted the theme of the High Holiday season: repentance.


The current and the most recent presidents of the US are marked by an utter lack of introspection. No matter what, a mistake is never made. They are always right. An adjustment of policy never happens other than due to a political calculus. Contrition is never uttered. Self-confidence is total. Advisers are to be ignored or sacked if they disagree.

Repentance requires just the opposite:

Introspection is essential.

Mistakes are made — by me.

Contrition is defined by Maimonides as one of the four steps of teshuvah, repentance.

Self-confidence is healthy — up to a point. Past that, it is hubris.

My advisers, my inner advisers — my power of rationalization — must be sacked.


Politicians tell us that if events turn ugly, well, they are but the best of bad choices. “I can only deal with the hand I was dealt.” I did no dealing myself. Recalcitrant circumstances preceded me. Someone else left a mess. I have no true agency. Not only that, I am a hero for making the tough moves.

Repentance requires just the opposite:

The choice is always mine.

A bad hand is an opportunity not for a bad choice, but for bringing out the best in me.

I am not a hero if I summon insight and creative action I did not know I had; it’s my job.


A good friend sticks by you through thick and thin. If not, he or she is not a true friend. Good friends don’t turn on you. They know your feelings, they support your decisions. They are always there for you. They don’t contradict you and never resign.

Repentance requires just the opposite:

The capacity to listen to a friend who sees you going wrong.

The appreciation of a friend who is not a yes man.

The acknowledgement that a friend who cares about you enough to speak up when you are not acting by your best lights is the best friend.

The true friend does not stick by you as you swerve toward disaster with horse-blinders on.


Humble people do not get elected. Humility contradicts vision. Humility prevents bold action. Humility is a glittering snare, a rationalization for shunning leadership, an excuse for backing away from challenges, a substitute for making a difference. Humility is “I can’t” or “I’m not fit.”

Repentance is just the opposite:

Humility guarantees that vision is scrutinized for defects. Humility, or purity of soul, impels action in the face of evil. (It took peace-loving Phineas to take bold action against society-undermining Zimri.) Humility guarantees that leadership will not spin out of control. In the end, the humble make the difference. “I can’t” is weakness, but humility is strength of character.


Under repentance, wisdom is slippery. It is easy or convenient or handy to dress up my mistakes as wisdom, as acting on painful lessons, when, in fact, I cannot face the pain. So I avoid it by doing the wrong thing and calling it wisdom.

It is not only politicians who do this.

It is many of us, or, at least, it is I.

The High Holidays beckon with hope — but only if introspection, choice, friendship, humility and wisdom are on the agenda.

They boil down to one word: accountability. To myself and before G-d.

The COVID lockdown of last year presented what I hope will turn out to have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to be alone on Rosh Hashanah.

To be undistracted by the person sitting next to me, by my thoughts about the rabbi’s sermon, by the hustle and bustle of hosting guests or by figuring out what to say or not say if I am the guest — by the atmospherics.

I want to be in shul this Rosh Hashanah. I do not want to be alone.

The trick is to take in all the advantages of praying with the community while remaining alone. Being focused. Being truly accountable.

Separated from the traits that undermine repentance and that seem to fill the political air around us.

Copyright © 2021 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN Executive Editor |

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