Images of people getting it right look back at us from every screen.
Ridicule of people getting it wrong hoots and hollers from magazines.
Serious social critics talk about how hard this is, especially for children, teens, young adults, women, men, immigrants…
Life presents a continuous flow of challenges: learning, maturing, teaching, working, loving, grieving, starting over.
And we get so little information about how to manage the challenges, so little compassion for the way thoughts and feelings ebb and flow, so little instruction on how to be with them, how to grow with them.
A wisdom tradition helps us do the work of inner growth.
Some see spiritually oriented traditions as guides. That’s how I see Jewish tradition. Some of our Jewish practices make this obvious:
Shabbat: time to heal from the stresses of life, time to simply be without a practical agenda.
Shiva, sheloshim, and a year of mourning: structure and support, letting you know your wandering trajectory of grief is not unusual
Teshuvah at the New Year: ideas, procedures, and shared courage for healing ruptured relationships
At Rosh Hashanah, everyone across the Jewish spectrum agrees: Judaism is a wisdom tradition. The tasks of self-reflection and soul-repair are the practices of the season.
But at other times, Jews’ respect for Judaism as a wisdom tradition wanes. Some even say, “Inner growth is a self-indulgent distractions from the practices.”
How can I understand this?
Perhaps some are afraid to confront their own inner lives. Certainly many rabbis and educators feel they have no training to serve as inner guides. Our seminaries need to value and provide this training.
Perhaps some believe that our shared practices are key to our cultural identity. They fear reducing Judaism to a set of abstract ideas. But the two are not incompatible: ideas, wisdom teachings, and practices are all part of culture.
Perhaps some worry because many spiritual traditions share the same wisdom teachings. If Jews seeking wisdom fall in love with another tradition, they might leave Judaism, and weaken our good core of thinking people. Of course, it makes good sense to show that what they seek is waiting for them at home. It does not help to deny our wisdom tradition.
Or perhaps – and I pray this one is not true – some are seduced by the culture of appearances, believing the fullness of religion comes when you dress correctly, drive at the right times, and share the Yiddish slang.
Until, of course, the pressure of life’s inner challenges becomes unbearable.
I don’t believe anyone can go through life without knocking on wisdom’s door.
I do believe it’s better to prepare for tough times by studying in advance.
And Rosh Hashanah, we would all agree, is a natural time to start.