Some of you may be aware that last week was the Jewish New Year, and this coming weekend is the Day of Atonement. This is the time of year when many devout Jews take into account their deeds and misdeeds, their successes and failures, and their strengths and weaknesses. Many of you might not celebrate these holidays, but what I've got to say about it may be worth a read.
During the Ten Days of Awe, G-D is said to take into account each person's conduct throughout the prior year, and to decide what events he or she will experience as a result of that conduct. It is implied that if we've done wrong, we may face a comeuppance. However, the liturgy of these days states that "Prayer, Righteousness, and Repentance avert (or lessen, depending on the translation) the severe decree."
You've seen me blog about misdeeds before. The Four Principles tell us that we Exist, Matter, Belong, and Deserve, but they don't tell us that we're perfect. Unless one of you is a divine super-being from another world, and chose not to enlighten me to this fact, then it's pretty obvious that we've all made mistakes this past year. We've all opened our mouths and put our feet in them. We've all forgotten things we should have remembered, and obsessed over things that were completely irrelevant, to our detriment. We've all gotten too big for our britches and put our own desires over others' needs. And we've all gotten so incensed in the heat of a disagreement, that we've done or said things that should not have been done or said.
The liturgy gives us a road map that might persuade the Almighty to grant us forgiveness:
PRAYER -- this can take many forms. For those who are traditional, this could mean attending morning synagogue services and wearing tefillin as a "sign upon your hand and as frontlets between your eyes (see Deuteronomy Chapter 6)." Or maybe going to church, mass, temple or mosque, and reciting the appropriate supplications seeking forgiveness. Or maybe just finding a quiet park bench, overlooking a lake , and seeking a personal connection with G-D.
There's no one sure-fire request to make of the Holy One, but I would borrow the recommendation a good friend of mine once made. Think of how it feels when you're with a good friend, you tell a joke, and your friend laughs. If you can go to the park bench described above, and you can sense that a good friend is already there, listening to you, you may have already made the connection. Depending on your surroundings, either out loud or silently, just ask for it. Ask to be forgiven. Admit that you're only limited, and did the wrong thing, and that you want another chance. There can never be any assurance of what the outcome will be, but if you don't ask, it's guaranteed you won't get.
RIGHTEOUSNESS -- this is a concerted effort to do the opposite of whatever mistakes you made last year. Did you zag when you should have zigged? Zig and zig hard. Did you forget too many details? Plug some notes into your iPhone so you'll remember. Did you chew out a subordinate at work? PRAISE your subordinates and praise them well.
Did you insult someone just because you thought they were weaker or dumber than you? Make respect and honor your watchwords, because you won't get that many free passes to do that. Not on my watch, anyway.
This part is separate from the prayer component because most of us don't need guidance to know right from wrong. Most of the time, we just know. Abraham knew that it was wrong to try to kill his son Isaac. However, because he received a commandment from on high, and didn't know where He was going with it, Abraham didn't have the gumption to refuse. Many of us have found ourselves in that predicament because someone "cool" wanted us to do something that wasn't. Righteousness means standing up to those who would have you do the wrong thing, consequences be damned, and saying NO.
REPENTANCE -- this is the tough part. This means admitting to someone other than G-D that you wronged them, and promising not to go that route again. Only problem is, to borrow a cliche from several action movies, G-D forgives, but many people don't. Some of them see repentance as a sign of weakness, and an invitation to browbeat, to upbraid, to rub salt in wounds, to take advantage, and to put you down in order to make themselves look more righteous than they really are.
Several of you have been reading my post from September 19, 2010 on New Day, entitled "The Fast He Wanted," which contains an even more concrete example of a refusal to forgive. Here's the link, for those who haven't yet read it: http://runninglawchunglee.blogspot.com/2010/09/fast-he-wanted.html
This is where the 24-hour Statute of Limitations can be used as a buffer. Chances are, the bastion of self-righteousness that you're now facing didn't tell you that you'd offended them until days, months, or weeks had passed. This means that any claim they once had against you is waived. This means that you do not need to feel guilty over what they perceive to have occurred, and you are under no obligation to apologize. However, to comply with the three steps outlined above, and just because it's good to "be a mensch," you must still apologize if you know you've done wrong.
The 24-hour Statute of Limitations does not prevent you from repenting for your sins if you choose to do so. It does, however, bar the allegedly aggrieved from attacking you further, because they didn't timely state their claim. And if they do choose to attack you at a moment of contrition, any obligation you may have felt to apologize and make whole evaporates. That's right. Their claim was waived ab initio, you tried to make good on it anyway, and they tried to take advantage of your good nature to state a claim untimely. People who do that are completely undeserving of repentance, and over time, they'll learn that the hard way.
As for those who were timely, but are less callous and more accepting, don't let them down. REALLY make good on whatever ails them. Don't just say you're sorry, show you're sorry. By money, by deeds, by actions, whatever it is, make them whole. Even if you can't completely make them whole, your efforts and your intentions will be golden, and they will respect you for it. And they themselves will be golden by their choice to forgive!
The reading of the Prophets for the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah comes from Chapter 31 of the Book of Jeremiah. In that passage, Israel is compared to Rachel weeping for her departed children, and G-D tells her to stop her weeping, because her work will be rewarded, and Israel will be forgiven for its sins. The message, according to the rabbi I heard at synagogue, is that as long as you have performed Prayer, Righteousness, and Repentance, there's no need to keep begging and groveling for forgiveness. G-D has already granted it to you. It's OK to feel free now.
So let it be with you all. Get it right with G-D, get it right with yourself, and ask to get it right with others. Everything else should be a piece of cake!
A good holiday to those that observe. And may those that don't take something good away from this week's entry.