Silencing the Inner Judge

Meet Hannah. It is Rosh Hashanah lunch. The table is impeccable, full and expectant. The guests are many, varied and very hungry. The 10 children (or maybe more, she just lost count)  are auspiciously absent for an (admittedly blessed) split-second. So, post-Kiddush buzz, Hannah takes the opportunity for a satirical monologue. She bangs her fist on the table and announces with great pomp something like this:

“This meal is officially called to order. Welcome to the courtroom of Rosh Hashanah, the lunch episode. Presided over by the honorable and formidable ‘inner judge’ (may she be compassionate). Today I will judge myself on just how witty, how pretty, how holy and how-well-my-Spanx-stockings-will-hold-in-my-stomach-until-dessert I can be. I will be found wanting. I will suffer the lashes of shame before all.”

She would have continued her inspired soliloquy but a kid somewhere started screaming and someonehad to rush up 43 stairs to grit her teeth and soothe the poor thing.

But that is just one illustrative slice of the relentless marathon that was RUSH Hashana for Hannah and so many women like her. That marathon ended with Hannah sick in bed. Her very own PRHSD: Post Rosh Hashana Stress Disorder. She finished the last load of laundry and simply collapsed for three full days. Sound familiar to any other overworked mothers out there who go out of your way to go all the way?

The thing is, Hannah knows that she did so astoundingly much. She knows how ridiculous and unacceptable it is that she would dare judge herself as lacking. She knows that she shouldn’t need to convince anyone – not herself, not God and not everyone on Facebook – that she is ENOUGH.

And yet, the inner judge insists that she must.

As much as Hannah may wrangle that magistrate out of her robe, the inner judge has a tenured lifetime position in Hannah’s head… and we each have our own.

The inner judge is a concept well-known in psychology, from the Freudian idea of super-ego to the Jungian concept of negative animus. The inner-judge routinely produces feelings of shame, deficiency and low self-esteem. This nettlesome figure sits at the root of an array of mental illnesses. Narcissism, addiction, obsessive compulsion and depression… to name just a few. We humans walk around equipped with a full-functioning courtroom in our minds.

Luckily, Judaism recognizes just how central this inner judge is to the human experience. It is no mistake that we start off each new year with a day labeled Yom HaDin – the Day of Judgment. Judaism realizes that judgment – of self and others – by self and others – is going to be pervasive in the coming year, just as it was for the past thousands of years.

And so Rosh Hashanah makes a point of setting things straight right from the get-go. How? By insisting throughout the liturgy that the Judge – and only Judge! – is God. We are told explicitly and repeatedly that the most essential focus of this day is to crown God as King; to shift the judgment to where it belongs – In God’s hands.

Exercise – Change Your Head:

Rosh Hashanah means the Head of the New Year. Rosh means ‘head’ and ‘shana’ means year. Beautifully, tshana – comes from the same root as the word shinui – meaning Change. The second layer of meaning to Rosh Hashanah is thus a head that changes; a poetic reminder that we can, in fact, change our minds. It is a reminder that we can – and must – generate new ways of thinking.

The most essential change that we can create in our minds is precisely the message of Rosh Hashana: Take Judgment out of your hands and place it squarely in the holding container of the Divine. Here’s how:

  1. Create Awareness – Notice just how many times a day you have a judging thought towards yourself or others. The numbers will astound you.
  2. Shift the Judgment – Relieve your inner-judge from her position. Dethrone that voice and replace it with the voice and notion of a just and merciful Divine Presence that loves you unconditionally like the world’s most ideal parent.  
  3.  “God made it this way for a reason” – One of the most helpful and healing psychological benefits of a belief in God is the idea that God is in control and made it this way for a reason – a good reason. Look at the issue that you are judging harshly. Now state, “God made it this way for a reason.” List off three good reasons God may have indeed made it this way. Notice the relief and acceptance that floods in.

This is the gift of Rosh Hashanah. It is a blaring reminder that throughout the year when that inner judge starts up with her gavel, our job is to remember that she defers to the Boss of Bosses. A loving Divine is the One and Only One who presides in the court.

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