Changing our names
by Rabbi Batsheva Appel
The challenging work of Elul is to review the past year, to see what changes we want to make, and how we want to change in the coming year. Making the list of changes is the easiest part of the work. Enacting the changes, the shifts in our behavior, the adjustments in our relationships especially the work of repentance, these are the biggest parts of the work we do this month.
Maimonides writes in his legal code, the Mishneh Torah:
Among the ways of repentance are ... to change one's name/identity, as if to say, "I am now another person, and not that person who did those things”… [Mishneh Torah, Repentance, 2:4]
Changing one’s name and identity is very much a next level teshuvah repentance activity. Consider how integral our names are to who we are and how we interact in the world, from something as simple as getting an iced decaf Americano at a coffee shop to introducing ourselves to other people. Each time we use the new name, we remind ourselves of the fundamental changes we are making in our lives and how we think about ourselves. Each time we use the new name, we remind those whom we have wronged about our intent to take repentance very seriously.
Do we need to change our names this month to repent? Not necessarily. What is required of us is to take the work of repentance seriously and see it for the fundamental change it can be.
16 Elul 5783/September 2, 2023
by Rabbi Cassi Kail
In the midst of High Holy Day season last year, I found myself in an unlikely place: a craft store. The store itself wasn’t unusual. What was unusual is that I was in it. I’ve never been particularly artistic. And yet, I found myself perusing the aisles in search of yarn and crochet hooks.
It occurred to me that I had not actually done anything crafty in quite some time. Perhaps now, in the season of change and opportunity, it was time to give it another shot.
I went home, frustratingly failing at making a magic circle, before putting the yarn and hook down altogether. A few days later, I tried again and failed. A friend bought me a larger hook and yarn, and I tried once again, with only slightly more success.
And then, it occurred to me that I didn’t need to be good at this. I gave myself permission to fail and permission to keep on trying. After all, how often do we give ourselves the opportunity to try something well outside of our skill set?
Many months later, I wrote this while wearing a kipa of my own creation. I will never create a masterpiece or become an artist, but I now love to crochet, and I’m proud of what I can do. Sometimes change happens in big moments of realization or transition, but far more often, it happens incrementally, stitch by stitch.