Monday, February 24, 2014

No Regrets

Shabbat Shekalim
24 Adar 1, 5774
February 24th, 2014

My social media is filled with people telling me that they live life with no regrets. I stare dumbly at these posts, trying to figure out what they mean.

It’s not clear to me how to live without regret. By the time most people I know have gotten anywhere in life, they’ve made at least a couple of decisions that were real stinkers; that’s not to mention the kind of stuff that happens to us, instigated by God, nature, or other people, outside of our control. 

I think we all want to be clean; I think we want to live free of the detritus of the past; I think we wish that we were unburdened. I wonder, though, if we’re really free when we go all death metal with both hands, scream out ‘YOLO’, and bungee jump off that bridge. Don’t get me wrong: I’m an adrenalin junkie; I love all that stuff; but, after the rush, we still have to go back to being ourselves.

In the Torah, God’s first recorded emotion is regret. Around chapter six of Genesis, God realizes that these humans are a bit more than the Holy One had bargained for. “The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that God had made humans on earth, and God’s heart was saddened.” (Bereishit 6:5-6)

Regret exists for a purpose; even the Holy One feels it. Some kinds of change require one to confront the past, even its wreckage. Right beyond regret lives the kinds of radically new choices that one cannot make without first looking back. 

Perhaps our desire to be carefree is leading us astray from real spiritual work. Robert Frost said it well, "the best way out is through."

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