Four Weeks of Elul 5772Week three: Personal and Professional Relationships
Like many of you last week, I watched several hours of coverage from the Republican national convention. While the speakers and pageantry were effective in presenting the positions and platforms of the party; while the pageantry and excitement that the convention created were palpable – there was one aspect of the convention that was disturbing to me. This had nothing to do with political positions, but rather the way in which ad hominum attacks were cavalierly delivered from the podium and in the announcer’s booth - by politicians and pundits alike. I have no illusions that next week’s Democratic convention will be any different.
I fear that our political process and the multi-layered campaigns of persuasion and manipulation that accompany it are coming dangerously close to dehumanizing candidates and destroying relationships. This makes it difficult, once the elections are over and the work of governing begins, for elected officials to work together in the aftermath of “scorch and burn” political campaigns. The past several years of gridlock in Washington – and here in Colorado, for that matter - can be seen as but one example of the dangers of allowing the passions of the campaign to enter into the process of governing.
I feel strongly that our nation needs to learn how to build relationships. We need to understand that intellectual disagreement is not a stumbling block to human interaction. But it is not only in the political arena that we experience these types of impediments to healthy relationships. How many times over the course of the past year have you found yourself losing patience and cutting off personal relationships with others whose beliefs or opinions are different than your own?
The month of Elul provides us with opportunity to reflect on every aspect of our lives as we prepare in enter into the Yamim Noraim – the days of Awe. In particular, as we engage in the process of Chesbon Ha-nefesh – taking an inventory of our souls – all too often, when we think about our relationships with family, friends and co-workers we realize that we may have not lived up to our highest potential for good. It is sometimes easy to take out our frustrations, fears and anger on those who are closest to us. They are convenient targets and we know that we will be forgiven for momentary lapses. And yet, each time that we fail to see the holiness in those around us – whether at home, at work, or in the community, we damage the relationships that make life worth living.
Our tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur the sins we have committed against God will be forgiven if we are truly repentant. The sins we commit against others, however, cannot be forgiven unless and until we have asked those whom we have wronged to forgive us. In many ways, this is one of the most difficult aspects of Cheshbon Ha-nefesh. It means that we have to take risks by reaching out to others. We may encounter resistance, anger, or resentment. Sometimes it is impossible to reach out to others – and yet, it is our duty to do all that we can to assess whether or not reconciliation is possible. If there is a slightest hope – then we need to try – even if we fail.
In the same vein, when others come to us with a pure heart to ask for our forgiveness, our tradition teaches that we are obligated to forgive them. Sometimes granting pardon is even harder than asking for forgiveness. And, of course, there are some actions which are too difficult to forgive. Nonetheless, if we are asked for forgiveness, we need to try our best to see these requests as opportunities to bring holiness into the world.
The following questions are designed to make us think about the current status of the many different relationships in our lives. Again, this is by no means a complete list. Hopefully it will provide you with a starting point for improving the relationships in your lives.
1. How many times in the past year have I taken the love and friendship that others offer me for granted?
2. Are there people I have wronged that I need to ask to forgive me?
3. Will I be able to forgive those who come to me to ask for my forgiveness?
4. Have I taken part in any business or personal transactions this past year that were against my religious, moral or ethical principles?
5. Have I taken time recently to let the most important people in my life know how much I care about them?
6. Have I allowed politics to come in the way of relationships?
7. Have I shut out the pain of others in other parts of the world? In my country? My City? My congregation? My neighborhood? My family?
Again, I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use. If answering them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Heit and I would welcome the opportunity. Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, contact Susie Sigman at Sigman@emanueldenver.org .
L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – May you have a good and sweet new year,