File this one under: Really?!

Yesterday when stopping for coffee on the way to the synagogue after dropping Erez at camp I encountered the following car parked on Capitol Way.


If you know me, or at least remember my Rosh Hashanah sermon last year, this type of parking job really gets under my skin. In that sermon, I called out those other parents at my son’s elementary school who don’t pull up all the way to the car in front of them when parking on the city street, thus blocking others from parking and limiting the number of cars. (I didn’t really mean to just pick on other parents. I do see this behavior in other places, it is just I am regularly at the school.)

While clearly not the greatest offence in the world–it doesn’t make it into the 10 Commandments (though I guess a case can be made for “Thou shalt not steal”)–what troubles me about this act, and why I spoke about it from the bimah, is what it represents: the focus on the self at the expense of others. The demonstration of self-centeredness, that this driver is more important than other drivers. The flagrant disregard for communal norms and rules that are meant to govern how we interact with each other.

[At least by the school there are no lines demarcating parking spots. But on Capitol Way there are clearly lines that mark the spots, and this person chose not to follow them. They thus take up two spots, making it difficult if not impossible for another car to park there.]

We are now in the month of Elul–we celebrated Rosh Hodesh(the new moon) earlier this week. The month of Elul immediately precedes the High Holidays; Rosh Hashanah is exactly one (Jewish) month from now. Our most sacred season is upon us.

Rosh Hashanah begins the new year and initiates a time of reflection and self-examination. Yom Kippur, ten days later, is the day of atonement when we intensely focus on teshuvah(repentance): self-improvement, making amends and healing breeches. They are days of intense spiritual energy. Elul, therefore, takes on spiritual significance in that we begin to take on this important work. We begin to think of the ways we need to atone, where we need to improve, when we erred and what we can do to do better. Our tradition wisely gives us a lot of time to focus on this work; we are given a whole month of preparation before the holidays themselves.

To do the work of teshuvah we think about when we have sinned. In Jewish tradition we often talk of sin as “missing the mark.” That is, the wrongs we do are not inherently evil, but rather the places we fall short. We know what is expected of us, we know what we are supposed to do. We set a goal, and sometimes we miss.

The most intense work of teshuvah comes not in the places in which we fail ourselves, or God, but where we fail others. Since our life is lived in relationship, so much of what we do has an impact beyond ourselves. To do teshuvah we need not only identify those times when our actions have negatively impacted others, we need to correct them. And that means reaching out to others, admitting our mistakes and making amends. And pledging not to repeat the behavior.

So here is my new metaphor for the High Holiday season: sin is not just “missing the mark,” but sin is “parking outside the lines.” When we park outside the lines, we fail to recognize that we are part of a system in which we are not the only player, we do not take note that our decisions and actions impact those around us. When we park outside the lines we put ourselves above others, and do not recognize the full humanity of those around us.

When we park outside the lines we need to reassess where we need to go, get back in the driver’s seat and adjust our position.

With blessings for a meaningful, liberating, enlightening Elul.

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