I recently missed the wedding of my dear friend, Shoshanna. I was crushed, but had no choice, and this was after I had assured her, only two days earlier, that I would be there. I debated whether or not to phone her that day, but didn't want to be the bearer of bad news on one of the happiest days in her life. I bought her a beautiful set of Shabbat candlesticks and prayed silently that she would accept the gift and my heartfelt apologies.

I had to wait seven days to congratulate her and offer my peace token. As I waited, I thought of all the times that I had been irritated by friends or family who hadn't acted as I had anticipated—missing my child's birthday party, turning down an invitation for a get-together, or simply not returning a phone call. I stewed in these thoughts, anticipating with some anxiety my friend's disapproving gaze and indignation as I would explain my unanticipated absence from her wedding. By the time Shoshanna returned I was miserable, contemplating the irreparable damage to our friendship and berating myself for my own prior shortcomings in judging others.

But Shoshanna's response taught me something far more important than simply re-evaluating my own past grievances. As I approached her cautiously with candlesticks in hand, she smiled warmly and hugged me. "I prayed for you under the chupah (wedding canopy); I'm so sorry you couldn't make it." All the tension that had built over the past week fizzled on the spot. She didn't even ask for an explanation. In that one simple statement, Shoshanna taught me something immensely valuable—she had already judged me favorably and realized that if I had missed her wedding, there must have been strong justification. She had assumed the positive.

I thought about her the entire day. How life would be if we simply explained its occurrences in a positive way. If we not only overlooked or forgave, but just didn't see anything wrong in the first place. There is a famous expression by the third Rebbe of Chabad (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, 1789-1866), "If you think good, it will be good." In other words, in some sense, we help to shape our destinies by the internal messages we tell ourselves. By judging favorably we create peace—the highest and most complete of all blessings.

Shoshanna's reaction reminded me of a story the Talmud tells about Rabbi Akiva, one of our greatest sages. He entered a village and tried to find accommodations for the night, but was turned away by the innkeeper. At each step of his journey that night, events did not work as he had planned—his candle blew out, his donkey and his rooster were killed by forest animals. At each instance he stated, "All that G‑d does is for the good." In the morning he discovered that bandits had raided the town where he had sought accommodations, and he understood that had they seen his candle, heard his rooster or his donkey, he, too, may have been injured or murdered. An interesting commentary on this Talmudic story posits that G‑d was "compelled," in a sense, to turn the night's events for the good because Rabbi Akiva had continued to insist that each event was "for the good."

Since I am a strong believer that every occurrence in our lives comes as a personal message from the Almighty, I am sure that this exchange of events with Shoshanna, smack at the beginning of the month of Elul—traditionally a time of teshuvah ("repentance") and closeness to G‑d before Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish new year—was not a haphazard occurrence but a direct message to put on my "optimist" glasses and view the world with a less critical eye. Our Sages have taught that G‑d, to a certain extent, reacts to us as a cosmic mirror. If we see the world with rose-colored glasses, He reveals a wisp of His Divine light and creates a rosy picture; if we view a dim picture of ourselves, our neighbors, and the world at large, He withdraws His Divine light and only darkness is left. Wearing rose-colored glasses, of course, doesn't mean blindness—but it does mean giving the benefit of the doubt, ignoring small slights, and seeking that ultimate kernel of good.

As I thought about viewing others in such a sweet light—overlooking the scattered dirty socks that needed the laundry hamper, my child's grousing over eating "scrambled eggs again" in the morning, my husband's inclination to doze in the middle of one of my stories, my friend's broken promises—I had an epiphany: it occurred to me that such a charitable outlook must begin at home, with myself. After all, I couldn't see the world in such a golden light, if my own internal tapes constantly replay my own mistakes and missteps. It occurred to me, at that moment, that most people in our modern-day society must be plagued with similar self-doubts. How can anyone evaluate himself honestly if he can't see the positive as well as the negative? Maybe those rose-colored glasses are the clearest lens a person could actually possess.

With all the pop-psychology and self-improvement/seeking happiness material that floods our information highway, the Chassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811), so many years earlier, gave a simple formula: he advised that a person should spend twenty-three hours a day thinking only positive thoughts about himself, and one hour evaluating his negative traits; this was the trail to true self-improvement and motivation.

With new resolve, I tried just that experiment. For one day, I did put on those glasses. I didn't pay attention to my son's whining for $2.00 ice cream cones at the local outdoor fair, but noticed how cute he is when he clings to me as if I am the center of the world. I felt my husband's concern for me when he took my favorite blue skirt to the tailor to repair the zipper without me reminding him. I noticed the miracle of my ability to see, to walk, and to taste. I felt the light of the sun warm on my tired face at the end of a long workday. I shrugged when I was a few minutes late to the doctor's appointment instead of berating myself for not leaving on time. At the end of the day, I reviewed where I could improve – maybe more sensitivity to a neighbor's frustration, more patience teaching my third grader math—but this evaluation, too, was less harsh and more hopeful. I felt like I could do better, instead of thinking about how "I blew it". The day was rosy—filled with warmth and serenity—and with that mindset, I looked at the world in an entirely different way: patience and generosity with others and myself, instead of with a harried eye; understanding and compassion in place of criticism. It was a full day of peace, and a solid step toward real teshuvah.

Elul is all about self-improvement and seeking forgiveness. It is the month of charity and teshuvah--"returning" to our true kernel of good and yearning to reach even greater heights of spiritual growth. It is a month for deep, heartfelt prayer since, in the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, "the King is in the field" and listens even more intently to our longings at this time. We have the most potential to stretch our spiritual might in this month. In order to actually improve, however, we have to first see our ultimate goodness and realize that our negative choices have only clouded, but not erased, our intrinsic worth.

In each of us is a spark of Divinity emanating from the Almighty—G‑d created each of us because He believes we can fulfill a magnificent potential. How do we reach it, especially in the upcoming New Year? First, it might do some good to grab those rose-colored glasses and take a long, peaceful look in the mirror.

In memory of my father, Jaacov ben Yehuda Leib, on his sixth yarzheit, Elul 6, 5766