It’s the cliche you’ve heard a hundred times. “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” Maybe you’ve even heard the typical, sarcastic pre-teen comeback, “But there is “me.” It’s the coach beckoning out to the player who isn’t sharing the ball with his teammates. It’s the orchestra or band conductor when one musician doesn’t match their pitch with the others. It’s the teacher in a classroom when one student constantly calls out the answers before anyone else has a chance. Or it’s in a professional setting when one co-worker is constantly promoting themselves at the expense of another. One of the hardest and most essential lessons to learn when interacting in society is how to share, how to be a part of the community. We try to teach our children as young as we can that they are a part of the family, they are a part of the community, and that we have a responsibility to others to do our part to help. But sometimes, when this lesson is taken to heart, we find ourselves so entrenched in the problems and workings of the community that we lose ourselves as individuals. The ideal is a balance between personal responsibility and communal responsibility, and real peace is a world of give and take.
Clearly, we don’t live in this utopia; in fact, we live in a world where finding the balance can be exceedingly difficult. This problem of finding balance is most notably obvious when looking at the liturgy we’re about to spend 25 hours engaging with for Yom Kippur, when we’re spending time in the pews instead of glued to college football (*insert favored team cheer here). It is on this special day that we are asked to look deep inside ourselves, to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs that we as individuals have done during the course of the year. We are supposed to spend the day in personal thought and prayer, hoping to individually be inscribed in the book of life. Yet each time we arrive at a moment of confession for our transgressions, it is written in the plural. “We abuse, we betray, we are cruel…” are the words we recite. We stress personal responsibility, but our liturgy informs us that for better or for worse, we are responsible in some way for the actions of all human kind. While I might not be the literal transgressor, I live in a world where these transgressions continue to occur.
“But Rabbi,” you might say, “I can’t take care of everyone! That’s crazy!” It’s about balance. We strive towards a work/life balance, a food balance, a TV balance, and even here, a balance in our communal responsibilities. Hillel, the great rabbinic scholar, taught: If I am not for myself, who will be for me; If I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now, when? This teaching reminds us that we have multiple obligations.
● If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
We must understand that we have a responsibility to take note of ourselves and to set boundaries that allow each of us to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. This phrase reminds us that we are each individually required to live a life that fulfills our own souls, and at this time of the year, we must take for ourselves precious moments for prayer that fulfills our needs. We must be true to ourselves, and on this and every day, we must search deep inside ourselves for the truth in our prayers, thoughts and deeds. We must understand what it is that we do or haven’t done because of our own reasons.
● If I am only for myself, what am I?
But, Hillel teaches, if we are only for ourselves, then we’ve done nothing. If we only confess for the transgressions that we have done individually, then we have missed the boat on what it means to live. “What am I,” we must ask ourselves, “when I don’t take a stand in the community, when I play for the ‘me’ instead of the team?” As part of Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, we have a responsibility towards one another and the greater world to act for justice and righteousness.
● If not now, when?
Finally, Hillel teaches us that the time is now. Instead of waiting for the right time to take on that next project, start today. We arrive at this season of repentance and renewal anxious to move forward and begin a new year. As we make this fresh start, free from transgressions, we are to think about the now, about our commitment to the community. The blessing is in the plural because we are all a part of the team.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: The Ashamnu is the communal confessional prayer of Yom Kippur. Find it in your Machzor and as a family read through each of the “sins” or “missed marks” and discuss how you might work together as a team to stay on target this coming year.
לשמור To Keep: לעשות To Do: Yom Kippur is a day of atonement, asking for forgiveness, which can be very abstract to children. Sit with your child and ask them what they’re asking for forgiveness for this year. Perhaps even help them write a letter to the person they’ve hurt.