She-asani Kirtzono

Rachel Petroff Kessler
September 26, 2013
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On Yom Kippur, I often find myself vacillating between two extremes. I find myself apologizing to God – I’m sorry I have not lived up to the potential You have placed within me. Then I stop short, wondering if this is the height of hubris – who am I to assume that God has created me to be so much more remarkable than I am? All the things that hold me back, are they too part of what God wanted for me? Am I striving to become the best version of myself or to turn myself into someone else?

 

In this moment of self-doubt I turn to our liturgy. Not, oddly enough, to any text from the soul-piercing liturgy of the High Holy Days, but rather to a simple line from Nisim B’chol Yom – a litany of daily blessings we recite in any morning service. The line that snags my heart every time cannot actually be found in the prayer books I use most regularly.

 

Mishkan Tefillah, the Reform movement’s dominant prayer book, writes: “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has made me in the image of God (she-asani B’tzelem Elohim). Beautiful words, and a powerful reminder that even when we might be feeling our lowest, we are still a creation of the Divine.

 

My mind turns to another blessing, however. One that exists in many non-egalitarian prayer books as an alternative for women to recite in place of where a man would say “she lo asani isha (who has not made me a woman).” For a woman, the offering is made, “she asani k’irtzono” (who has made me according to His will). When placed in contrast with the man’s verse, I find it has the sting of a back-handed compliment. Nevertheless, I find that if I am willing to leave the baggage behind (just to rest it on the sidewalk for a moment – no need to abandon it all together) I find a powerful teaching.

 

You were created to be exactly the person that God wanted you to be! God wanted you to be exactly who you are! The gifts and talents, the quirks and shortcomings – God placed them all with care. This is an insight that I struggle to hold in my heart during Yom Kippur and all year round.

 

This insight does not free me from needing to do the work of atonement. This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Not an I-can’t-help-but-be-a-jerk-that’s-how-God-made-me card. Not a who-needs-Tshuvah-I’m-already-perfect card. Rather, it is a call to be critical of my choices, and honest about my failures while still being compassionate about myself and honest about my abilities. I strive to trust myself by trusting God, for isn’t it God who gave me my intuition? (also, I suppose, my penchant to eat ice cream and watch terrible TV – everything in moderation) Is God not also the one who gave me an ability to tell myself, “you can do better” and to know when it has the ring of truth to it and when it is a hollow affirmation. How many of my sins came because I was afraid to reveal myself? Afraid to voice me real thoughts, to put myself at risk for being truly seen?

 

 It is hard work to figure out what “wholeness” means in my life when I can’t use some outside perfection as a yardstick. Hard to figure out what is realistic for me, what involves imagining myself as some other person who is decidedly not me. It is a task I expect I will always be working on – trying to uncover and embrace my whole self so that I can give the best of what God has given me to my family and community.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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