Rabbi Reflection: Ands or Buts…Thoughts for 5783

By Rabbi Barbara Cohen / Congregation Ahavath Sholom

For a while now, I have been paying consistent attention to using the word and instead of but as often as I can…when either one would make sense. And connects things, while but separates. And builds bridges, while but reveals a pre-conceived blockage that sets us up for lowered expectations and disappointment.

And so, I urge you to pay attention to your usage of these two very short powerful words. Words are more than sounds that we mutually agree to understand. They overtly and more subtly convey how we see the world and feel about things. Their repeated usage gets embodied. And carries us forward, makes our shoulders straighten; but causes a shrinking. We may not see it in ourselves and others and (not but) I tell you it is happening, nonetheless. Hear and feel how differently these next two statements reveal differing views and how they might be received by a listener.

“I have always wanted to take painting lessons, and I may not be good at it.”

“I have always wanted to take paintings lessons, but I may not be good at it.”

There is a difference, and increasing attention on choosing how and what it is you truly want to convey with your language could lead to deeper self-understanding. Maybe it would also help other people see us more clearly. At these holiest of days in our Jewish calendar, aren’t we meant to turn inward and make a turn toward greater clarity – turn toward ourselves and others with emotional openness and honesty? If you make an intention to focus on how you use language in your preparatory work for the High Holy Days, you might begin to notice that you are reinforcing habitual perspectives in your thoughts and speech that no longer serve you and that you would like to work on leaving behind as you move into the New Year, 5783.

You might be thinking: “Who has any interest, time, and mental space for this?” Guess what folks… we are all busy with life, no matter what our ages. For some folks, just waking up and breathing is all they have energy for. For others, a full calendar is no impediment to fitting in something that will benefit themselves or others. That commonly-used excuse about being too busy for anything we secretly hope to avoid needs to be retired.

And how would you like to experience a greater sense of personal meaning? A feeling that you are growing as a person? Each of us has things to work on and these days are a time specifically set aside for this kind of work. And you do not have to fix everything at once and (not but) forgiveness is hard to ask for and hard to consider giving in responding to the request of someone brave enough to ask. “I hurt you and I hope you can forgive me.” “I hurt you, but I hope you can forgive me.” The and enhances the possibility of a renewed relationship, the but makes the teshuvah divide seem so much harder to get across. If you feel this point is too small to make a real difference, consider it again. A chasm, just a little too big to jump, spells the difference between success in life and a plummeting failure.

I am wishing you and your loved ones a meaningful and spiritually rich High Holy Day season and a healthy New Year 5783. AND may you feel the promise of redemption and repentance in the days to come with only ands to inspire you and no buts to block your way.

L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah – a good and sweet New Year.

Rabbi Barbara Kipnis Cohen is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Great Barrington.