Rabbi Sandy Ragins of my family’s congregation in Los Angeles has officiated at hundreds of baby namings during his career. Besides the usual blessings read, he will often share a line Gandalf spoke in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Yet it is not our part
to master all the tides
of the world,
but to do what is in us
for the succor of those
years wherein we are set,
uprooting the evil in the
fields that we know,
so that those who live
after us may have clean
earth to till.
What weather they shall have
is not ours to rule.

We are faced with the sobering reality that there are things we cannot master – the tides and the weather. We know that too well in Tucson. We shield ourselves from the hot summer heat, and dash madly to our cars as a monsoon appears from nowhere. Nature is a scary part of our lives. The impact of hurricanes Dorian and Karen this summer and their impact on the Bahamas, the east coast, and the western Caribbean are only the most recent examples.

And yet, there are parts of our lives which we can master so that,

We can uproot evil in the fields we know, so that those who live after us may have a clean earth to till.

Our concern and our focus during these Holy Days should be on the parts of our lives of which we can control better. I will share with you a teaching of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav which has incredible insight in what we are already doing and what we can do better. Although the Bratzlaver Rebbe’s teachings and stories may be complicated, it is not necessary to understand the full body of the teaching or story he tells. The complexity of his stories and teachings have the benefit that he places gems all along the way. You may only pick up a gem or two without understanding the entirety of the teaching, and that in itself can be a treasure for you.

Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810) was a descendant of the Ba’al Shem Tov and received his teaching of serving God with joy. Nachman was human with human failings and guilty emotions about them; not unlike any of us. The following is a result of one of his many struggles:

You have to judge every person generously.
Even if you have reason to think that person is completely wicked,
It’s your job to look hard and seek out some bit of goodness,
Someplace in that person where he is not evil.
When you find that bit of goodness
And judge the person that way,
You may really raise him up to goodness.
Treating people this way allows them to be restored,
To come to teshuvah.
This is why the psalmist says: “Just a little bit more and there will be no wicked one;
You will look at his place and he will not be there” (Ps. 37:10).

The wicked look powerful and overbearing. They appear to dominate the scene. But this is true only if you let them. Once you eliminate their power, they disappear.

And by telling them, showing them, that that’s who they are,
We can help them change their lives

They have to make that choice. We can only make an offer. That is where we get stuck.

Even the person you think

and he agrees!

— is completely rotten –
How is it possible that at some time in his life
He has not done some good deed, some mitzvah?
Your job is just to help him look for it, to seek it out and then to judge him that way.
Then indeed you will “look at his place”
And find that the wicked one is no longer there –
Not because he has died or disappeared –
But because, with your help, he will no longer be
In the place where you first saw him.
By seeking out that bit of goodness
You allowed him to change,
You helped teshuvah to take its course.

So now, my clever friends,
Now that you know how to treat the wicked
And find some bit of good in them –
Now go do it for yourself as well!
You know what I have taught you:
“Take great care: be happy always!
Stay far, far away from sadness and depression.”
I’ve said it to you more than once.
I know what happens when you start examining yourself.
“No goodness at all,” you find. “Just full of sin.”
Watch out for Old Man Gloom, my friend.
The one who wants to push you down
This is one of his best tricks.
That’s why I said:
“Now go do it for yourself as well.”
You too must have done some good
For someone, sometime.
Now go look for it!

But you find it and discover that it too is full of holes.
You know yourself too well to be fooled:
“Even the good things I did,” you say,
“Were all for the wrong reasons.
Impure motives!! Lousy deeds!!”
Then keep digging, I tell you,
Keep digging,
Because somewhere inside that now tarnished-looking mitzvah,
Somewhere within it there was indeed
A little bit of good.

That’s all you need to find:
Just the smallest bit: a dot of goodness.
That should be enough to give you back your life,
To bring you back to joy.
By seeking out that little bit
Even in yourself
And judging yourself that way,
You show yourself that that is who you are.
You can change your whole life this way
And bring yourself to teshuvah.
It’s that first little dot of goodness
That is the hardest one to find

or the hardest to admit you find! It is not up to anyone else to tell you what it is. It is yours to alone to know for yourself.

The next one will come a little easier,
Each one following another.
And you know what?
These little dots of goodness in yourself –
After a while you will find that you can sing them!
Join them to one another
And they become your niggun, your wordless melody.
You fashion that niggun by rescuing your own good spirit
From all that darkness and depression.
The niggun brings you back to life
And then you can start to pray…

The rabbi is speaking to you about self-judgment. He teaches us how easy it is to be critical of who we are and what we have done. There is no good found when we become brutal in judging others; all the more so, we can never be so brutal in judging ourselves. We all have “dots of goodness.” A denial of that cuts our connection from others, and from God, and the joy God wishes for us to share.

The point of godliness is not in denying it because we can’t see it. Rather it is found in the discovery of our goodness, and once it is found, it is to be cultivated and expanded, until it becomes the central force of our lives.
There are aspects of our lives that are not in our control:

it is not our part
to master all the tides
of the world,

and

What weather they shall have
is not ours to rule.

but to do what is in us
for the succor of those
years wherein we are set,
uprooting the evil in the
fields that we know,
so that those who live
after us may have clean
earth to till.

We have the succor, the assistance of years, to uproot evil we find in the fields, our world, in others and in ourselves. Let us take the time to clear the fields so that others will have a clean earth to till. That is the hope we all have as we stand on the edge of a New Year.