Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. But how many people know that the difference between these famous rivals can be traced to one point of origin and one critical, defining moment?
David and Goliath were actually third cousins; descendants of Moabite sisters named Ruth and Orpah, who married the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, Israelites who had fled the city of Bethlehem during a famine. When Elimelech and his sons died prematurely, Naomi decided to return to Israel, insisting her daughters-in-law remain with their own people. But in a tremendous display of loyalty, both women ignored Naomi’s attempts to push them away until, at the story’s climax, Orpah gave in, kissed her mother-in-law, and returned home. Ruth accompanied Naomi to Israel, where she married and eventually produced David. Orpah went on to produce Goliath.
The storyline is striking. Why should Orpah, who came within a hair’s breadth of making the same choice as her sister, produce Goliath, the antithesis of David? Our oral tradition provides the missing link: That night, while Ruth was following Naomi, Orpah lay with one hundred men. Goliath was the product of this promiscuity. (Ruth Rabba – 2:20) But the question remains: How could Orpah fall so far so fast?
I believe Orpah realized she had missed an opportunity to achieve greatness. But instead of owning her mistake and moving on, she crossed into self-judgment, deeming herself unworthy. Instead of recognizing her momentary failure to live up to her potential, she chose to define and limit her potential altogether, turning disappointment into despair and devastation.
So what do David and Goliath have to do with Rosh Hashanah? According to our tradition, Rosh Hashanah – the awesome Day of Judgment – ushers in the 10 days of teshuvah (literally “return”), a time when people examine their ways and improve themselves. This is why it’s important, now more than ever, to emphasize that Judgment is God’s job, not ours. Yes, I’m familiar with the adage that we shouldn’t judge a person until we’ve stood in their shoes, which seems to imply that it’s okay to judge ourselves. Nevertheless, I beg to disagree for a couple of reasons.
First, even when we’re aware of our actions and motivations, we usually lack the big picture. We experience life in fragments of time, and we view those fragments from way too close a vantage point: Even if we could recall every detail of our lives, we would still lack the necessary objectivity to put them into context. We are rarely capable of viewing ourselves without distortion.
But there’s a more fundamental reason why self-judgment is not an option, even when we accurately identify our flaws: We cannot evaluate our lives and live our lives at the same time. Self-judgment removes us from life. This is not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of how we live. It’s just that there’s a huge difference between mindfulness and self-judgment. In fact, they tend to conflict.
Take a look at what you’re passionate about and you’ll see the difference. One of my favorite extracurricular activities is martial arts. I love how it combines a great workout with mastery of a skill and self-perfection. To become proficient, I must be constantly mindful, focusing on the smallest details as I work the same forms over and over again. For me, this is what makes the processes both engaging and fun — that is, until I see someone who is better than me and decide that I’ll never be any good. The moment I focus on myself, I cease being mindful of the process, and the activity that had just moments before been a source of pleasure now leaves me feeling demoralized.
It’s easy for me to slip into self-judgment, and my work as a coach tells me I am not alone. Most of my clients tend to judge themselves harshly, which often leaves them carrying a heavy burden of negativity, depression, and disempowering beliefs that they’re sometimes not even aware of. I recently met a woman who regularly beat herself up over her tendency to worry because she knew it was silly and counterproductive. Sadly, she thought her self-criticism was a mitzvah; her only chance to change. But the truth is that her inability to lovingly accept her flaws was the single biggest impediment to her growth.
On Rosh Hashanah, a snapshot is taken of our life and the question is asked: What have we become and where are we heading? It’s not our job to take that snapshot. Nor are we meant to feel in any way limited by it. Rather, that snapshot is meant to inspire us to do more with our lives. It’s meant to fill us with excitement and joy, not negativity. But most of all, it’s meant to make us more mindful of the greatest gift we will ever possess — the gift of life.
Wishing you a sweet and meaningful New Year!