In Jewish law, testimony that is given informally – even incidentally – is considered the most reliable. It is easy to understand why that is the case. Information that is conveyed unfiltered – and without consideration of what a particular response might entail – would be closest to the truth. A person who provides such information is called “mai-si-ah l’fi tumo.” Thus the report non-Jewish chef who says he tastes the cream in the meat stew without knowing the kashrut implications is accepted as a truthful. And a woman who simply recounts her life story including how she remarried without a proper religious divorce reveals something important about the status of any subsequent children even though she had no idea of what the implications might be.
Likewise, a person may reveal some new and important insight about Judaism without knowing it. I was a witness to exactly such a case. An August candidate for conversion to Judaism was asked about the upcoming holidays. With considerable skill and with obvious awareness she proceeded to describe the theme and rituals connected with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While doing so, she referred to these holidays as the “Days of Ow.” No doubt, she was simply pronouncing “Days of Awe” as she read it. Given her foreign background, her mispronunciation is completely understandable. But rather than correct her, I felt compelled to compliment her. She gave me an insight; adding to my appreciation of the message of the approaching holidays.
Rabbis spend considerable time emphasizing the seriousness of the High Holidays, particularly the need to repent. Teshuvah – repentance – is not easy. It first and foremost requires honest introspection. Looking deep inside and evaluating personal behaviour during the past year is always a challenge. People are resistant to admit the wrongs they perpetrated. It is far easier to forget them than to recall them. No one likes to think of himself (or herself) negatively. No one likes to be reminded of his or her errors. So dwelling on one’s misdeeds is uncomfortable. But it is also necessary. People cannot mature emotionally unless they confront the past and resolve to improve in the future. Thus to be effective, repentance must include a measure of pain. Indeed, these should be “Days of Ow.”
May we all have the courage to look deeply into our ways and with the hope of building our character, enduring the temporary pain for the spiritual gain. May we all emerge better for the experience of the “Days of Ow.”