By Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
It was not until my now-college-age son was in grade school that I learned about the concept of the do-over. He was in our tiny back yard with some friends playing baseball with one of those oversized orange plastic bats. Something had gone wrong, and he and his friends were discussing — OK, arguing — about the possibility of a do-over.
The idea of a do-over was at once so enticing and completely ridiculous. If only it were possible, I would go back and do over that era before there was conditioner and my hair was either locked in braids or all “Bride of Frankenstein.” But, sadly, those days are long gone, and, wish as I might, I am stuck without the ability to do it over.
Yet Judaism offers us a model of spirituality in which the do-over is front and center.
Traditionally, upon waking, Jews are meant to recite the Modeh Ani prayer, the core of which says that I am grateful before You, G-d, that in Your compassion You have returned to me my soul.
When I use the prayer to wake my children, I add a verse thanking the Creator for placing these particular children in my life. Modeh Ani has for the most part been for me a prayer of gratitude.
But after the recent Jewish Family & Career Services luncheon, I began to think of it as a do-over prayer.
One of the main speakers at the luncheon was Eric Miller, the program director of HAMSA, who spoke of being clean for nearly eight years and broke it down by days. The possibility of falling off the path is not a distant one, he reminded us, but close at hand — it could come today, it could come tomorrow.
Listening to him brought to mind the words of the Modeh Ani. The Torah relates that in the beginning, G-d blew into the first being nishmat chayim. That phrase, often translated as the breath of life, can also be understood as the soul. It is a variation of neshama, which we are grateful to G-d for returning to us. While we cannot go back and do over the past, each day the divine source breathes our neshama into us and miraculously allows us to begin anew.
Recently I embarked on a new approach to living more healthfully. This is no easy task. While I have found ways to make it work for me, some days are more faithful to my new vision than others.
Changing who I am is an ongoing process. There are days — sometimes several in a row — that don’t go as planned. So I am grateful for the renewed chance each day to try again.
Judaism believes in teshuvah, the ability to turn around our lives and make different choices. It is a process that involves recognizing when we have not lived up to expectation and choosing to move forward on a different path. We all have room for improvement in the way we treat ourselves, the way we engage with others and the way we act in the world.
How precious then, the daily opportunity for the do-over.
Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder teaches classes on parenting as well as Jewish food. She works for Be’chol Lashon, an organization dedicated to celebrating the diversity of the Jewish people. She lives in Sandy Springs with her husband, David “Dr. D.” Abusch-Magder, and is mom to two teens. You can find her on Facebook and @rabbiruth on Twitter.