Taking responsibility for things isn’t always my forte. There are definitely times when I can be very “adult-like” and pull off an impressive measure of self-introspection and responsibility. But there are plenty of times when I throw my hands up, with the deportment of an outraged child, ready to shift the blame to someone else.

Yesterday morning was a prime example, and my husband was on the receiving end ... Poor guy. I had to be at a doctor’s appointment at 8:30, but we pressed “snooze” on the alarm clock one too many times and all got up late. We rushed around trying to get kids fed, adults caffeinated, lunches made, hair done, teeth brushed, sandals found and backpacks packed ... The usual morning madness, just way short on time.

We pressed “snooze” on the alarm clock one too many timesBy the time we got everyone strapped in their car seats and delivered to their classrooms, we were pushing 8:20, and I still had to drop off my husband and get to my appointment. By the time the last kid was dropped off, the stress of the morning reached its crescendo, and I proceeded to lay down my royal flush of emotional cards in my epic battle to win the “blame game” with my husband.

“Why didn’t you set the alarm to go off earlier? ... You know I hate being late ... Why is it always my job to pack the lunches? ... You should be way more supportive!” By the time I screeched up to his office building, my poor husband had been exposed to enough verbal toxins to destroy a whole layer of ozone. But I sped away in a tizzy, feeling completely justified in my attack.

It wasn’t until after my appointment (which I made with time to spare) that I started to feel like perhaps I had overdone it in the “my-husband-is-to-blame-for-everything” department. I started to feel really badly for behaving so childish and awful. So, I called his office and left an urgent message with his secretary. I told her to tell him Ain hadevar talui ela bi (“The matter rests entirely with me; the responsibility is all mine”). I knew he would understand what I meant. We had learned that lesson together through the following story ...

The Talmud tells a story about a man named Elazar ben Durdaya. Elazar was a man who made a lifestyle of sinning. He was known as the most immoral person of his time, with a particular compulsion towards pleasures of the flesh. One day, while visiting a brothel, a renowned prostitute said to him: “Elazar, you are beyond salvation, there is no World to Come for you.” Something about what she said or the way she said it shook Elazar to the core.

He left her chambers full of shame and remorse, and fled for the mountains. He was driven by an overwhelming desire to return to a G‑dly path, if only G‑d would forgive him. He cried out to the mountains and hills and said, “Please, plead my case for me, ask G‑d to have mercy on me.” But they responded, “We must plead for ourselves.” He turned heavenward and cried, “Please, heavens and earth, intercede on my behalf.” But they too answered, “We must ask mercy for ourselves.” “Sun and moon,” he wailed, “please beg for mercy for my soul.” They too answered, “We must ask for ourselves.” Finally, he gazed at the sky above and begged, “Please, stars and constellations, plead my case for me.” Elazar received the same response.

He left her chambers full of shame and remorseElazar fell to the ground, his head in his hands and cried from the depths of his soul. After a time, he rose and spoke the truest words that had ever crossed his lips, “The matter rests entirely with me; the responsibility is all mine” (Ain hadavar talui ela bi). And in that moment his soul left his body. A heavenly voice then rang out and said “Elazar ben Durdaya, your repentance has been accepted, you are worthy of the World to Come.”

Elazar was trying to make amends, but he was also trying to shift the blame. Our sages explain that the mountains and hills in this narrative represent his mother and father (the Hebrew word for mountains being harim, similar to the word horim, “parents”). When he asked the mountains and hills to intervene, he was really thinking, “It’s my parents’ fault that I turned out like this. They didn’t discipline me enough, they didn’t have the time to invest in me, they spoiled me.” But this plea was rejected.

In further defense of his shortcomings, he turned to heaven and earth, both symbols of the society that he was raised in. “It was the environment I grew up in, my friends, my school ... Everybody was doing it. That’s why I behaved the way I did. It wasn’t my fault.” But this defense wasn’t answered either.

He tried again, and turned to the sun and moon, both symbols of affluence (Rashi). “It was the glitz and the glam of how I grew up. There was so much emphasis on the material world, I couldn’t escape it. It’s not my fault, we were rich ... Rich kids are raised with a different value system.” But again, nothing.

In his last attempt of self-defense, he blamed the cosmos. “It was my 'mazal,’ my destiny to be how I am. If I had been born under a different astrological sign, I would have had a chance.” But the heavenly court did not accept this defense either.

Finally after a cathartic cry he found the strength to look inward. He realized that he couldn’t shift the blame to anyone else. “It’s all my fault,” he admitted, “I am the only one truly responsible for my behavior.” And in that moment he merited eternal life.

When I had settled down from my ranting and raving about the morning’s stress, I was able to self-reflect. I totally understood Elazar’s drive to shift the blame from himself. It’s hard to accept things when they don't go the way we hoped. It is even harder to take responsibility for behaving obnoxiously. It’s embarrassing and requires major mental and spiritual energy. And it often involves an apology, which requires gargantuan effort if you happen to be in the kind of headspace I was in yesterday morning.

It’s hard to accept things when they don’t go the way we hopedBut I realized that I was to blame for behaving like a brat. Everything I accused my husband of, I shared at least an equal part in. I love my husband and I value him, and I hate feeling disconnected from him. I knew the only way to truly reconnect with him was to take responsibility for my part in the story, just as I expect the same level of accountability from him.

Ultimately, this is what these High Holidays are all about. Reconnecting with our Creator who loves us boundlessly. If we are to truly connect with Him, we need to do some serious soul-searching and take responsibility for our part in our relationship. He’s always ready to accept our apology and re-establish our connection; we just need to be tough enough to take responsibility.