Tag 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!

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

Welcome to Elul

 The month of Elul precedes the High Holidays.  We use it to prepare for these Days of Awe. It can be a magical time.

 The preparation is the mental and spiritual “getting ready” so that the holidays take on deeper significance. Almost anything we do is done better if we are prepared for it. So how do we prepare?

 Traditionally each day starts with the blowing of the Shofar at the conclusion of morning prayers. The awesome penetrating sound is called a “wake up call” by one of our great sages Maimonides. For those of us without ram’s horns, each day still can have moments where we weave emotions and thoughts, heart and mind, and contemplate who we are. It could be formal learning like reading a Psalm, I will share some ideas going forward. Try Psalm 27 (read it at the end of this essay) or maybe Psalms 4, 5 and 6 if you would like to follow our Hasidic friends tradition. For others a moment in front of the mirror might work.

 A quiet conversation with ourselves might work better for many. Where are we in our life? Is it where we expected? What is our unfinished business and what do we need to do to complete the task? What about our personal relationships? Who do we need to forgive and, at least as important, who needs to forgive us? This introspective process during Elul leads to the “Day of Judgment.”

 The Day of Judgment we know from our childhood stories is a time when the ledger book is opened up in Heaven and the Almighty determines who will live and who will die. But let me offer another interpretation:

 If we are given the gift of life for another year, how will we use it? If life is truly a precious gift, how will we cherish it and make the most out of it? What can we do this year that will permit us to look back upon it and say it was time well spent?

 Let’s spend the time now preparing for an awesome year to come.

Psalm 27 (JPS Translation)

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.

Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.

Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

A Psalm for Elul- Psalm 27

Tradition asks us to recite Psalm 27 during the month of Elul as we prepare for the High Holidays.

I share the following beautiful translation of the psalm by Rabbi Yael Levy, on Congregation Mishkan Shalom, Philadelphia




THE INFINITE PRESENCE is my light and expanse, whom should I fear?

The Infinite Presence is the strength of my life, what shall I dread?

When forces come close

Seeming to devour me

When narrowness threatens

And opposition attacks

All that is menacing stumbles and falls


EVEN AS AN ARMY of mistrust besieges me

My heart does not fear

Even as thoughts and desires rise up against me

I still have trust


ONE THING I ASK of the Infinite, One thing I seek

To dwell in the Presence all the days of my life

To awaken to the beauty of each moment as I pass through this world


THE INFINITE shelters me as I encounter difficulty and pain

The Infinite holds me close in deep and hidden places

And lifts me high upon a rock. Now I can see through to what is true

And I will offer my gifts of thanks

And I will sing and make music to the Eternal

Please, Infinite One, Listen to my voice, hear my call



Answer me

You call to my heart, “Seek my presence”

Your presence I seek


Please don’t hide from me

Please don’t let me turn away in anger

I long to serve

You are my help

Do not let me feel abandoned

Do not let me turn away

In You I am safe

For my Mother and father have left me

And it is you who gathers me in

Teach me Your ways. Guide me on the path of integrity


THERE IS SO MUCH to lead me astray

Don’t let me give in to all that torments me:

the lies, the illusions, the menacing threats


I MUST HAVE FAITH that I can see through all of this

I can see the good, the blessings, the ways of life


CULTIVATE HOPE in the Infinite Presence

Let your heart be strong and filled with courage


– Translation by Rabbi Yael Levy




Looking in the mirror- an Elul Reflection

“They hate us,” “they want to hurt us” are two often heard refrains in the Jewish community.  Sadly this view of “the other” has had basis in truth.  Our history has too many incidents of another seeking our persecution or our annihilation.  From this comes a certain wariness of the other.  Xenophobia has roots and fertile soil. But when we view others through this lens, we too can become the very perpetrators of the animosity we find repugnant and threatening in the other.  Instead of searching for ways to coexist, we look for ways to protect ourselves from them.  We isolate them hoping to insulate us.  But instead, we isolate us and foreclose the possibility of building a bridge that might somehow connect us.

So during this time of Elul, the month of introspection leading up to the sacred Yamim Noraim, the High Holidays, let us take the time to look in the mirror at ourselves.  Let us dare to look our own faces in the mirror and see what really is staring back.  The opportunity for peace can exist only if we are first willing to take the risk of learning the truth in ourselves.  Then we can see the truth in the other.  And only then is there a prospect to build together.

On the international stage, we have witnessed in the ongoing Gaza conflict the perpetuating cycle of hatred.  It is very difficult indeed to sit and have a coffee with someone who is dedicated to your eradication.  And certainly there those who are so dedicated.  But has such hatred created in us the belief that everyone on the other side is dedicated to our destruction?  What happens when we begin to speak in sweeping terms that everyone is the implacable enemy?  Arab devolves into an epithet used to describe the enemy, the modern-day Amelek of our Torah, the embodiment of evil.  We lose sight that there are many on the other side also seeking to live their lives peacefully and with hope for a brighter tomorrow for their children.  We lose the ability to reach out and seek a peace for all.

The children can teach us so very much.  Hand-in-Hand schools, Seeds of Peace, Project Harmony-Israel and The Galilee Circus show us how Jew and Non-Jew can live together peacefully sharing and building.  We also see Arab children taught the canards of Anti-Semitism in the public schools of Gaza and other Arab Countries.  And sadly, we see the Jewish Israeli children taught the canards of animus and distrust of Arab neighbors, viewing them as second class citizens without legitimate voice or aspiration.  Hatred is often taught and hatred is a learned response to the world around us. But there is another perspective.   Elul is the time for us to look in the mirror and see ourselves.

Closer to home, these words of introspection apply to our daily lives as well.  So often we find ourselves at odds with family or friends, cross words lead to harsh actions and harsher words and crosser actions in response.  We can be estranged from the very ones with whom we should be closest because of what they said or what they did or what we perceived.  But their actions might be a response to what we have said or done. Pride keeps us apart and the passing time only builds the walls separating us higher and wider.  Might a close look in the mirror reveal something about our true selves that could be the bridge toward understanding?  What could we have said that precipitated their reaction?  And even more importantly, is the lost relationship worth the stand on principles or protected ego?

Things do not change by themselves or even quickly.  We can only hope that both sides will put aside the vitriol to seek another way. If even if they cannot, we still can.  We can control our actions.  We can understand that protracted animosity only perpetuates the status quo, a status quo that leaves us living in anger or fear of brother or neighbor, fear of each moment, paralyzed and unable to more forward.  For our brethren in Israel, the status quo requires the periodic sacrifice of their children in defense of their home; And for us, that we are alienated from others when it is precisely their relationship that we need.  Maybe there is a better way.  Maybe there is a brighter tomorrow for our children and us.  And maybe we can be the ones to begin that process of change so that we all might someday live in peace.

Elul is the time to look in the mirror and see our stark reality and also to realize that today can be the new beginning if we are willing.