The Days of Awe are filled to the brim with trial imagery. Sin and punishment, chest-beating confessions, a Judge who is both Parent and Sovereign — all the ingredients for a compelling courtroom drama are there. If our actions are going to be on trial, it is tempting to use Elul, the time we’re supposed to spend in self-reflection, to work on our defense arguments.
One might think that God would be impatient with arguments from the likes of us. If God is omniscient, what would be the value in it? What would be the point of the following request in Isaiah?
Help me remember!
Let us join in argument,
Tell your version,
That you may be vindicated. (Isaiah 43:26)
I don’t think it is the Eternal’s memory that needs refreshing. Mine almost certainly does, however, and there is nothing quite like an invitation to explain how I was right and justified in everything I did this year to get the gears of memory cranking. When I start unpacking my words and deeds to state my case, though, I run into trouble. I find my well-honed arguments trailing off as I see how shaky some of my excuses really are.
It would be easier, in some ways, to fling my defense in the face of an unrelenting Accuser. When I feel under attack, the walls of self-righteousness go up by reflex; there is no way I will admit even the possibility that I could have been wrong. There is a way around my instinctive barricade, though, and the One who professes to need help remembering has it all figured out. The One who speaks in Isaiah 43:26, rather than confronting me with all my shortcomings, solicits my side of the story and patiently waits for me to see the holes in my own rationalization.
Only then, when I see for myself how self-serving my memory can be, is there the possibility for my vindication through teshuvah, through turning and repentance and atonement.
#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.