Category Archives: T’shuva

The Godliness of Forgiveness- It’s all about me


mobiusbraceletHow do I forgive? I am supposed to use the month of Elul to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time of introspection, to reflect on how I can improve in the year to come by looking at where I went astray in the year past. I need to seek forgiveness from God as I bare my soul. But our tradition teaches I cannot ask God for forgiveness until I have sincerely attempted to reconcile with my fellows. It all starts and ends with me.

 Who among us does not deserve an apology from someone who has treated us improperly? But am I ready to welcome that apology if it comes? And if it does not come, am I prepared to reach out and help those who do not know how to ask for forgiveness and how would I do that? It is very hard to rise above my pain and hurt to embrace the humanity in the other.

 And what about those whom I have wronged? Can I find it in myself to be contrite and ask forgiveness from them? Pride and principle often get in the way, blocking what could otherwise be a caring relationship. Even when I sincerely believe I am right, standing on principle creates an impasse. Then I must consider whether it is more important to be right or to be the one who can reach out and embrace someone I care about.

 Finally and very importantly is forgiving myself. I look inside and see my shortcomings, the places where I did not do as I hoped I would, the places where I am shackled by guilt, immobilized by my personal sense of shame or deficiencies. I am the victim of the harshest critic of all, me. What can I do to finally say I am sorry; I forgive me so I can finally begin to heal from my wounds and move forward, not place a bandage over them. Keeping them locked inside only chains me to a past filled with hurt.

 Sins and transgressions are big and small. Whichever they are, my inability to move beyond them and sit in judgment places barriers between us. They estrange me from those I love locking me into a narrow place. If I can move beyond the pain and hurt, however, forgiveness can be a transformative experience. It is quite difficult but when I truly forgive, a great weight is lifted from me. Barriers that once separated fall and I can reunite with those who had become distant whether it is another I love or the child within. If I can temper “din” (judgment) with “rachamim” (mercy), then I am acting in a more Godly, selfless way. And perhaps it is through these acts of human forgiveness I might attain forgiveness from the Eternal One.

 Perhaps the first step on this path is through our traditional MiShebeyrach prayer for healing. May the one who blessed our fathers and our mothers bless those in need of healing with a refuah shlemah, a restoration of completeness. I will speak the words for them and for me too.

 May this be a year of health, wholeness, and healing for us all~

L’Shana Tova!

Elul and Mercury in Retrograde- what happens when Astrology and Judaism collide?

MercuryRetrogradeMercury is in retrograde. From August 30 through September 22, Mercury is moving backward in the sky from our perspective. This is the third of four such occurrences this year according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Astrologers say this event is supposed to mark a time for reflection rather than new action. This is not a time for decision-making. Instead, we are to assess priorities and plan to move forward by reviewing projects and determining where to appropriately focus energy.

 Elul is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. It is our Jewish time for deep reflection and repentance as we prepare for the High Holidays. For many of us, this is our period of Teshuva, the “return to God” that requires seeking and granting forgiveness as we strive to understand where we went astray and how we can get back on the path of living a meaningful righteous life.

 I’m not suggesting that there is some equivalence between Astrology and Judaism or that the early astrologers were Jews. But I believe that making time to take stock of whom we are is of utmost importance to finding fulfillment. The unexamined life is not worth living, so teaches Socrates in Plato’s Apology. So many of us are consumed by the day-to-day issues of living, sometimes, it is all but impossible to step back and assess where we are and where we are going.

 In life we often awake to find we have been blown off course. Anyone who has ever piloted a plane or a boat knows navigation is an ongoing process of course corrections, so too life. Currents and tides constantly push us off course and our aim has to compensate if we are ever to arrive at our destination. For some of us, we don’t even take the time to determine what our destination might be. For all of us Elul is an appointed time to engage in the process.

 As we approach these High Holidays may you find forgiveness for those who have offended you, be forgiven by those whom you have offended and find your true path of meaning, relationships, and fulfillment.

 L’Shana tova

The pressing message of urgency in Parashah Acharei Mot

CoachingReconciling the strange message of death

 Acharei Mot opens with an instruction from God about Yom Kippur prefaced by a bizarre phrase: “After the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord.” Is this a warning to Aaron that he has a job to do, so get to it, but do it right or you will end up like your kids? That seems like the unnecessarily harsh treatment of Aaron. Why would God start off in this way? Perhaps it is to guide us toward a deeper idea surrounding the urgency of atonement.

 Kippur is translated as Atonement, broken down to mean becoming “at one” with God. We atone when we harmonize ourselves with God. In this Parashah’s connection with the Yom Kippur ritual, the High Priest is responsible for creating this harmony between God and the people. Aaron is given elaborate instructions in this Parashah to prepare himself and to also prepare the Holy of Holies so that all will emerge pure and in line with God. Later we learn of how the people are involved in the Yom Kippur rituals. Our later writings further elaborate that only asking forgiveness of God is insufficient. But the opening of Acharei Mot challenges us more than with the importance of doing the rituals right. There was a need for action and T’shuva demonstrating a cleansed and pure heart.

 Leading with the seemingly incomprehensible deaths of Nadav and Abihu creates a powerful message intended to shock us into action. We understand that forgiveness of one another is important; before we can reconcile with God, we must reconcile with each other. However, full presence is necessary to the process and time is of the essence. T’shuva and forgiveness are critically important and must not be put off. In the normal course of relationships, such as between parent and child, we hope that parent and child reconcile before the parent is gone. Often we still wait, postponing such conversations until we see parents in their decline. But in Acharei Mot, the stark tragedy of Aaron’s two sons being struck down before his eyes makes the urgent message of atonement even more jarring. The gift of life is precious and tenuous; the estrangements that we may feel need to be repaired before it is too late to repair them at all. The unexpected deaths of Aaron’s sons, command our attention to acting immediately. But it must be with full intention and presence.

 Aaron is warned not to come inside the Holy of Holies at will lest he dies. He must be thoroughly prepared. The High Priest’s preparation and cleansing of the sanctuary are symbolic of the cleansing that needs to occur within each of us. Like the careful removal of all impurity in the holy sanctuary we too need to be cleansed and prepared, so we can approach another with an open heart both asking and giving forgiveness. When we search deep inside ourselves, we often find the hurts we have caused and the wounds we have suffered should not keep us estranged from each other. Our Relationships are precious. We have too little time before it is over, people die and relationships fade into memories.

 Acharei Mot assertively and starkly makes us confront the significance of forgiveness set against the backdrop of our mortality. We risk a lifetime of regret and guilt about things we might have done but did not. The Parashah metaphorically challenges us to find the way back into relationships and again become “at one” with another. Acharei Mot gives perspective to us, showing the overriding need to reconcile with and forgive those we should care about while we are still blessed with the time to share.

What does forgiveness look like for me?

What does forgiveness look like for me?

 Many Jews were amazed by the forgiveness offered by the survivors of the Charleston Church massacre. This Christian understanding of forgiveness is an extraordinarily powerful display of love but alien to many Jews. So what does it look like to offer forgiveness to another?

 How many of us carry a hurt and cannot let it go. How many of us feel that someone’s poor treatment of us gives us license to treat them similarly? Or perhaps many of us want to extract a retribution or punishment before we will entertain forgiving another?

 What might we look like if we could find a way to get past the hurt and find a way to repair a broken relationship? Can we set our egos aside or do we need to carry the hurt as a validation?

 I wonder about these questions this Elul due to my particular perspective as a rabbi. As a rabbi, I am someone who has the sacred privilege of serving at funerals. I find it very sad that many people leave things unresolved until it is too late. The pain and the guilt that survives death becomes an even greater burden than the hurt that caused the rift between the two.

 As we prepare for the High Holidays, let us examine our own motives and realize that even when the hurts are real, when we cannot forgive, these hurts become walls separating us from people we care about.

 As we come to the end of the 6th day of Elul,

 Shabbat Shalom



 What does forgiveness look like?  We speak of forgiveness during the High Holidays. We are told to ask for forgiveness from others. Our tradition says we cannot approach God to ask for forgiveness until we have done so with the people in our lives.

 This is the time to consider what it means to be forgiven. What must we do to make our request for forgiveness one that is full, with merit and true? How do we convey the sincerity of our Teshuva that makes the request of another we have wronged compelling?

 Are we willing to do all those things that transform us from someone who wronged another to someone who is sorry and has become someone who will not inflict that kind of hurt again? Even if our apologies are not accepted, think of what better people we have become.

 A thought to ponder this 5th day of Elul~connection