To Feel Like a Jew

October 2, 2014


“I want to know what you’re feeling.”

That was my friend Judy’s final suggestion when I asked her how she was enjoying my blog.

It was a risky question for me to ask, but I knew she had signed up to receive it via weekly emails. I wasn’t sure if she read them or not, but I knew she was getting them.

(She assured me that she reads them, which we both agreed means a lot.)

Why would she want to know what I’m feeling? To write about my feelings seems sort of like writing about my dreams– they may be vivid and valuable to me, but they’re impossible to explain and not all that relevant to anyone else.

But, I’ll give it a try.

This is the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as the Ten Days of Teshuvah.

So, I should be feeling…repentant.

Repentant is a strange word, I know. It doesn’t even sound Jewish. Thoughts of penitence evoke thoughts of how to appease a scary G-d Who constantly looks to punish us for our human frailties.

Not to mention, “should” and “feeling” don’t seem to go together. Isn’t the beauty of feelings that they don’t have to listen to anybody?

Well, they don’t, but they should. And they can. We can control our feelings by what we tell ourselves intellectually. This, in fact, is the cornerstone of Chabad philosophy, that the mind rules the heart.

At least, it should. And it can. It just takes a lot of work, and few people, if any, get it right all the time. Which is why G-d built into the world a time for us to regret the messes we make, both big and small, when we don’t.

As for the punishing G-d, we are taught that G-d looks to be merciful and forgiving but sometimes, our behavior leaves Him no choice but to reprimand us with His attribute of strictness and justice. Which is why these ten days are ideal for acknowledging our failings; G-d’s forgiveness is swift and complete during these days.

I have been asking for G-d’s help for many years to help me be a more G-dly person. Not just act like one, feel like one.

Merciful, humble, compassionate, kind.

These are not adjectives that were even in my vocabulary of desirable traits until I became observant. (I was aiming more for “brutally honest” or “wickedly funny”–G-dly”  wasn’t anywhere on the list.)

The work of becoming a G-dly person is like training for a spiritual marathon; it may be unlikely that I will win, but I have to make a sincere effort to try. And a large part of that training involves controlling my feelings.

This is definitely not easy, but these Ten Days of Teshuvah are the days when I ask G-d to help me not just do it better, but feel it better.

The litmus test of how G-dly we are is how much we love what He loves– other Jews.

Do I “feel” this love for other Jews?

Well, let’s just say I’m making progress in eradicating what I call my ” me jerk reaction,” as I try to respond to other Jews with genuine and immediate compassion and concern, instead of as something separate from myself. For all the times I have viewed others harshly due to this misperception, I am truly repentant. It is the opposite of what G-d wants.

But, as hard as it to run in the marathon to become a G-dly person, I feel grateful that I chose to enter this race and that I still try to run.

Next Thursday is the first day of the eight day holiday of Succos; I hope to be with our daughter Elkie, her new daughter, Chaya Mushka, and the rest of her family in California. I’m not sure exactly when, but, G-d willing, I will post from the West Coast!


  1. Reply

    Cheryl Weisberg

    Thanks once again Leiba, for sharing your most personal thoughts with us. Beautiful analogy with the marathon.
    Shana Tova to you and your family! Mazel Tov and safe travels.

  2. Reply

    helene wishnev

    The spiritual marathon is a lifetime enterprise as you well pointed out, but this blog was a homerun!
    Thanks for the inspiration just when I needed it – and blessings for a “Moshiackdik” year to you and your beautiful family and to all K’lal Yisroel!

  3. Reply


    This was beautiful. I’m glad I took the time to read it. I can really relate. You and your whole family should be sealed for a gut gebenscht yor with only revealed brachos!

  4. Reply

    Denese Zaslansky

    Dear Lieba,
    I don’t think you realise how humble you are. You are gracious and kind and generous. I agree that we should all strive to be better and do more all the time, but I believe that we have to acknowledge our strengths and embrace them too. Wishing you a beautiful Succot and an amazing time with your daughter and granddaughter. Thank you for your inspirational blog.

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