Published On: Thu, Sep 14th, 2023

The Balance Sheet

Written by Rabbi Stephanie Shore

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me
something more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.

The kind of elevated living we see modeled in the wise woman, the spiritual practice and selfless giving is what we endeavor to raise within ourselves during these most holy days. If we are approaching them with conscientious thought then we are taking account of our behaviors this past year and creating a balance
sheet. I say balance sheet because in modern psychology it is important to not only recognize where we have fallen short but to acknowledge where we have succeeded.

In an article from, FAY AGATHANGELOU writes, “Ask yourself questions to help identify your good qualities. For example: “Who or what do I care about?” “What am I passionate about?” “Who cares about me?” “How have I helped someone?” “What challenges have I overcome?” “What do others like about me?” “What good things have people said to me?” Focus on who you are as a person. Your good qualities, and self-worth are not about achievement or possessions. Your worth is who you are as a person and it’s important to know that.”

For some of us it will be easy to list our good qualities for others it will be easier to list our not so good qualities. This is an exercise in bringing our whole selves to G!d during these times. To thank G!d for the incredible person you are and ask for help with the character traits you wish to improve upon.

Reb Nachman of Bretzlov said, “The day you were born G!d decided the world could not exist without you.” We are all precious in the eyes of G!d, it is our job to gift G!d and this world with the preciousness that is uniquely ours.

When we take an honest accounting of ourselves, we can understand that each experience we have had has brought us to this day, right here, right now. We label our experiences good or bad, but we are judging these times from our finite perspective. With 20/20 hindsight we can recognize that life events can lead to good or bad outcomes we never could have imagined. There is no question that painful life events are much harder to square in our minds. We’ve all heard the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

Think of a ceramist, a lump of clay and a potter’s wheel. From the moment the ceramist cuts the amount of clay that will be used for her project, to the shaping of the clay on the wheel each a crucial step. When the clay gets put into the kiln for it’s first firing, it is heated to 1,800 F to 2,400 Fahrenheit. The clay is
transformed from something fragile that will dissolve in water, to hard ceramic material.

This story beautifully narrates how we are molded by our good and not so good life experiences and how there is a bigger plan at work through it all.

There was a couple who used to go to England to shop in the beautiful stores. They both liked antiques and pottery and especially teacups. This was their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

One day in this quaint little shop they saw a stunning cup. They said, “May we see that? We’ve never seen one quite so beautiful.”

As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the cup spoke. “You don’t understand,” it said. “I haven’t always been a teacup. There was a time when I was red and I was clay. My creator took me and rolled me and patted me over and over and I yelled out, ‘let me alone,’ but he only smiled, ‘Not yet.’

“Then I was placed on a spinning wheel,” the cup said, “and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. Stop it! I’m getting dizzy! I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’ “Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat!” the teacup said. “I wondered why he wanted to burn me, and I yelled and knocked at the door. I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as He shook his head, ‘Not yet.’

“Finally, the door opened, he put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. ‘There, that’s better,’ I said. And he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Stop it, stop it!’ I cried. He only nodded, ‘Not yet.’

“Then suddenly he put me back into the oven, not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. All the time I could see him through the opening, nodding his head saying, ‘Not yet.’

“Then I knew there wasn’t any hope. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. But then, the door opened and he took me out and placed me on the shelf. One hour later he handed me a mirror and said, ‘Look at yourself.’ And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me; that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful.’

“‘I want you to remember, then,’ he said, ‘I know it hurts to be rolled and patted, but if I had left you alone, you’d have dried up.

I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled.

I knew it hurt and was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked.

I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened; you would not have had any color in your life.

And if I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t survive for very long because the hardness would not have held.

Now you are beautiful porcelain, colorful, courageous, and strong!

We also hear this message from G!d in the writings of our prophet Jeremiah: “Go down to the house of a potter, and there I will impart My words to you.” So, I went down to the house of a potter, and found him working at the wheel. And if the vessel he was making was spoiled, as happens to clay in the potter’s
hands, he would make it into another vessel, such as the potter saw fit to make. Then the word of G!d came to me: O House of Israel, can I not deal with you like this potter? —says G!d. Just like clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in My hands, O House of Israel!

We are like clay in the Potter’s hands. For some of us the potter could be life experience which molds us and changes us and for others the Potter could be G!d. Either way we are being molded and shaped into hopefully more aware spiritual beings who, through our own healing and growth, are able to aid in
repairing this world. We grow by our challenges. We relate to each other over our struggles.

But remember we said at the outset it’s a balance sheet so what about our victories? Our successes? The parts of us that are uniquely special?

Why is it so hard for us to delight in our good qualities? Many years ago, during a conversation with a friend, I received a compliment. Feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to say in response I immediately began to divert the attention from the compliment and replied with, “Oh, it’s nothing, I am sure you have many gifts and talents as well.”

I didn’t allow myself to receive the compliment and give it space in my mind to be absorbed. My friend said, “When we shun compliments, we are basically saying that we don’t appreciate the marvelous talents G!d has blessed us with.”

The best thing to do when we are complimented is to say, “Thank you…… period.” Still so many of us have difficulty in this area.

Leslie Becker-Phelps a PHD, writes on WebMD: “Do you feel uneasy focusing your accomplishments? If you do, you are not alone. Like many people, you may shy away from thinking about or sharing the positive aspects of yourself. Instead, you focus on your flaws, mistakes, or anything in yourself that you believe needs to be fixed. As a result, you feel bad about yourself, which also keeps you from fully
enjoying your relationships. So, while there is a place for acknowledging and learning from your weaknesses or errors, there is also a place for appreciating the good in yourself.

She continues, “If you are concerned about being vain or conceited, it is important to know that even people with great humility can feel positively about themselves. Those who are humble and self-assured appreciate their strengths while not overblowing them or having to announce them to the world. You can do this, too, by keeping your strengths or accomplishments in perspective – as experiences to feel good about, but also as part of a humanly imperfect package.”

While we are contemplating our year in review, it will do us well to remember that where we have fallen short and where we have succeeded are both part of our spiritual journeys. The ongoing and endless nature of our spirituality continues through all experiences in life. We are spiritual on our good days and
our lesser days. It’s all part of our path back to at-one-ment with our G!d.

There is a wonderful book called, “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” Author Ernest Kurtz says, ““Spirituality is one of those realities that you have only so long as you seek it; as soon as you think you have it, you’ve lost it. In rediscovering this basic spiritual insight, the earliest members of 12 step programs tapped the essence of open-endedness that characterizes a spirituality of imperfection. Spirituality is boundless, unable to be fenced in: We do not capture it; it captures us. As much as we might like to “wrap things up,” to lock spirituality in and hold it fast, it will forever escape our grasp.”

When the traveler, we spoke about, decides to journey back to the wise woman to give her back the precious stone, his steps were an important part of his travels. This interlude between his realization and meeting up with the wise woman gave him the opportunity to understand what the precious acquisition
was truly.

During these holy days we recount the many sins we have committed. if we have a desire to reach a deeper sense of peace within ourselves, we can achieve our goal of drawing closer to G!d even though we have done wrong.

Ernest Kuntz says it this way, “God is closer to sinners than to saints.” This is how he explained it: ” God in heaven holds each person by a string. When you sin you cut the string. then God ties it up again, making a knot-and thereby bringing you a little closer to G!d. Again, and again your sins cut the string-and with each further knot God keeps drawing you closer and closer.”

Psalm 145 poignantly states:

קָר֣וֹב יְ֭הֹוָה לְכׇל־קֹרְאָ֑יו לְכֹ֤ל אֲשֶׁ֖ר יִקְרָאֻ֣הוּ בֶֽאֱמֶֽת׃

G!d is near to all who call, to all who call G!d with sincerity.

I pray that we may bring all of ourselves to these holidays and call upon G!d with
a sincere desire to grow.

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