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  • Rabbi Mordecai Finley Ph.D.

Turn Your Life Around (adapted from 2014)


Most of you reading this have turned your lives around, at some time or another, in a big or small way. We were headed in one direction, caught ourselves, and turned towards a new direction.

Here is an exercise for this Shabbat Shuvah, literally, "the Sabbath of Turning": try to remember how that "turning your life around" happened. Take yourself back to that moment of contemplation, where you weighed things, assessed, and realized you had to do things differently. Maybe because something bad would happen if you did not change your attitude or behavior. Maybe you turned things around because you wanted to be a better person. Maybe because you wanted to be a more authentic person. Perhaps you did something to make yourself morally and spiritually more whole, so you could live with yourself, or so others could live with you. Or you made a turn so that your life would have greater meaning, greater purpose. From aimless to true.

As a rabbi, counselor and seminary professor, I witness people turning. You know where else I see it? At my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club. Some guy shows up, overweight,out of shape (as I did 17 years ago, about 50 lbs. heavier than I am today). It is a little embarrassing to be a white belt. (Even the good athletes just don't understand the feeling of drowning when you spar against a higher belt.) We see a lot of guys come and go. It is hard to get in shape, and hard to lose every sparring match for several months. I remember it acutely. Demoralizing.

Some guys stay. They want to lose weight, get in shape, learn how to fight. They are determined to turn their lives around physically. It is amazing to see the change after about the first year. People's bodies and spirits take shape. Then it gets really hard. The fast progress slows down. People can get bogged down in the second or third year, where many people stop training.

Practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu these past 17 years has helped me understand spiritual and moral growth immensely. I think my focus on mastering skills, not just attitude, comes in great part from my mastering (in a manner of speaking) a physical discipline, especially a martial art. Nothing tells the truth like fighting on the mat, one on one. Some days my attitude is in the pits. I am tired, grumpy, exhausted and worn out. I have committed myself, however, to showing up. What happens after I show up can turn me around.

And nothing tells the truth like how you fight with your loved ones, or how we live through difficult moments with them. Or how you struggle through life's challenges. Angry? Fearful? Resentful? Anxious? Confused? Almost all of us can become morally and spiritually out of shape. We get confused. We act impetuously, or we depress and check out.

And then there comes that day when we are quiet and take stock, and become determined to turn our lives around. You've done it before. Maybe this Shabbat, the Shabbat of Turning, you can do it again.


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