Home > Judaism, spirituality > My God, The Soul That You Have Given Me is a Pure One

My God, The Soul That You Have Given Me is a Pure One

“My God, the soul that you have given me is a pure one.”

That line appears in the daily morning service, as if — as Debbie Friedman used to teach — reminding us that each day we start anew, untainted by whatever we may have done the day before.

Debbie used to add that if our religious schools could teach the students that they start each day with a pure soul, we’d be ahead of the game even if we taught nothing else. I tend to agree.

Even the most forgiving among us are often relentlessly unforgiving of ourselves.I have frequently asked teenage students if they think that they have a pure soul, and the most common answer saddens me: “I used to,” they say.

Yes, even by high school, sometimes earlier, the students think they have done something so awful that they have irrevocably destroyed who they used to be.

Certainly part of the problem is the entirely un-Jewish approach that equates sex with impurity. (I remember teaching a high-school class about the Kabbalistic poem “Lecha Dodi” some years ago, and pointing out that the word we usually translate as “my beloved” is, in fact, “my lover.” A surprised student asked, “so the prayer is dirty?” “It’s sexual,” I told her, “not dirty.”)

But I think the problem goes deeper.

I think that even the most forgiving among us are often relentlessly unforgiving of ourselves. We let other people have a bad day and don’t give ourselves the same permission. We accept lapses in judgment by others but not ourselves. We forget about callous remarks aimed our way while we let our own misspoken words haunt us.

We want to take back what we have done or said, and when we cannot, we feel we have sullied our soul.

Some mistakes are so monumental that we read about them in the newspaper and hear about them in courts of law. But most of us let far more mundane errors haunt us: an ill-advised comment, a road not taken, or a choice poorly chosen.

I think there’s a certain nobility to trying to live a blameless life, but an equally certain futility. We want to ask, “can I be perfect?” But the better question seems to be, “how do I react when I screw up?” Our morning prayer addresses that second question.

The prayer’s answer is that no matter what, we are still the very embodiment of holy purity. There is nothing we can do, say, or believe that can destroy the inner beauty of the human soul.

I want to be clear. I don’t know what a soul is, and I’m not sure I believe in a God that can give me a pure one. But I don’t think we should let the lofty language of the liturgy hide an important message for our daily life.

I write this in the first few days of 2013, when many people are engaging with New Year’s Resolutions: I won’t do… I will do… I’ll never again… I promise not to… And so forth.

But I think most of us have unfinished business from last year, last month, and even yesterday.

Maybe an appropriate resolution for moving forward is to start each day by reminding ourselves that the soul you have given me, my God, is a pure one.

[Reprinted from the Vassar Temple February, 2013 bulletin.]

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Categories: Judaism, spirituality
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