Forgiveness and its impact

Forking forest path

On the cusp of the Jewish New Year of 5782 is Elul, a month devoted to reckoning with the past year, we are supposed to address whom we have harmed in the past year, make amends, and ask for their forgiveness.

Amnon and Tamar, painted by Jan Steen              Amnon and Tamar, painted by Jan Steen

When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as it states in Samuel 2: 13:22 .

“And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.” Rather he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him “Why did you do this to me?”, “Why did you wrong me regarding that matter?”.

You must not harbor hatred against your brother in your heart. Directly rebuke your neighbor, so that you will not incur guilt on account of him.”

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” . Leviticus ch. 19, v 17-18

Even if you feel that you are the one who has been offended, you are instructed to reach out to those who may have hurt you, to allow them to redress their behaviour. For example, perhaps the other person is unaware of his error, or you have misjudged something you overheard that they may have said about you. So it is your responsibility to open the pathway to reconciliation.

Moreover, you are obligated to reach out for reconciliation three times. The person being approached is instructed to be conciliatory – “kind, not cruel.” This applies to family as well, since often, those closest to us may have the most significant possibility to offend and withdraw in hurt and silence and anger as in the above reference of Absalom and Amnon. *1

Rabbi Avraham Danzig *2 claimed that if ever you hurt another person, that is a violation of G-d’s law, and none of it is forgiven unless forgiveness is sought from the person first. Thus, one is not forgiven in the heavenly court until he has done the work on earth.

Rabbi Yehezkel Levenshtein *3 goes one step further, and remarks, “the only reason that G-d ever moves from the Throne of Judgement to the Throne of Mercy is if he sees us doing the same, seeking reconciliation and forgiving each other.”

The Jakab and Komor Square Synagogue in Subotica

The synagogue service of Rosh Hashana is designated as a person’s opportunity to come before G-d so that he may be blessed with life, health and prosperity in the coming year. We are aware that life and death are in G-d’s hands, not ours. This is what we are praying for on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. However, G-d does not consider forgiveness unless we have done the work of Elul – forgiving each other in the flesh.

Paris

On the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, New Years Day, Jews all over the world celebrate the “birthday of the World.” This day signifies the opportunity for a new beginning for all of us in the coming year. So this is a cause for celebration and joy. It is a holy day like the Sabbath when commercial “work” is forbidden, communal services are held, and festive meals are prepared.

The structure of our holiday prayer service on Rosh Hashanah is Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot, which powerfully establishes our Jewish heritage.

Malchuyot (Sovereignty) – we look to our origins as the first monotheistic religion. Rather than entreating multiple deities to provide for all of our needs — food, weather, fertility — we declared that there was one true God who reigned over all aspects of life. That was a radical notion at the time, and of course, it still defines the essence of Judaism. Malchuyot refers to the Coronation of the “Sovereign Over All,” which is happening in the synagogue via the words of our prayers.

Zichronot (Remembrance) – we acknowledge God’s role in our current lives. Although we view God from a greater distance than some of our ancestors – There’s no longer direct divine prophecy as we read about in the Bible – nevertheless, we trust that even though we are far removed from that time, God remembers us today, and even more importantly, that we too remember God. While God may be literally out of sight, God should never be out of mind.

Shofarot (Revelation) looks to our future as a people. In Judaism, we recognize that while God was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, that event did not represent the end of our relationship. God’s revelation continues each day. It attests to the brilliance and durability of our tradition that each successive generation has the ability and the responsibility to interpret and internalize it. The Torah famously tells us in Deuteronomy 30:12, “lo bashamayim hee” – “It is not in heaven” but here on earth, where the sacred words of our ancient texts are to be continually interpreted and understood. *4

And here is Rabbi Yair Silverman, of Moed in Zichron Yaakov, Israel, giving us a reading re malchuyot, zichronot, and shofarot that speaks to our present moment.

 

Our prayers beseech God to move from the seat of Strict Judgement – Din – to the Seat of Rachamim – mercy.
Please God, grant us life, health and prosperity.
Teshuva, Tefila, Tzedaka, maavirin et roah hagzera”
Teshuva, returning to our core self and God
Tefila, through words of prayer and
Tzedaka, giving and sharing freely with our fellow man

maavirin et roah hagzera  have the power to sweeten the harshness of G-d’s decree. *5

Chazzan

I look forward to listening to the Reader/the Chazan chant the Torah portion in the original Hebrew every week, whether in a synagogue or through zoom. It’s like having your private opera! You know all the words, but it’s still different every time because you are different. We all change every day, and prayer is a way to access those changes personally. Call it meditation if you wish.

Shana tova ve metuka, Hebrew, for wishing you a sweet year to come.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Maimonidies, Mishne Torah, Hilchot De’ot
  2. Rabbi Avraham Danzig, Wikipedia
  3. Rabbi Yehezkel Levenshtein, Wikipedia
  4. Structure of our prayer service on Rosh Hashanah, Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofrot, My Jewish learning www.myjewishlearning.com
  5. Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka, Ten Days of Teshuvah, quoted in Torah Studies: a Parsha anthology by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson adapted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn, New York, pp.334-337.

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