The beautiful full moon we saw last night reminds us that we are halfway through the month of Elul. The urgency of our Chesbon Hanefesh (self-reflection) is becoming more and more intense as we prepare to end this year and enter into the year 5776 on Rosh Hashanah.
This week, I want us to focus on our personal and professional relationships. The Mishnah (Yoma 8:9) teaches us that those transgressions we have committed against God will be forgiven on Yom Kippur if we are truly repentant. Those transgressions we commit against other people, however, will not be forgiven unless and until we ask those we have harmed for forgiveness.
This is one of the most difficult aspects of the process of Teshuvah (returning and repentance). Before we can approach others, we first have to look deep into ourselves and come to grips with our own frailties and mistakes. Common wisdom in many circles is that admitting mistakes is tantamount to failure. We are taught – through the media and countless “self-help" movements – that our individual needs and desires should take precedent over those of others. Judaism teaches the opposite. To live in community is to constantly be in the process of teshuvah. The rabbis taught “Repent one day before you die.” (Mishnah – Avot 2:15) Since we can never know the day of our death, we should be in a constant state of repentance. In addition, we are taught that when others come to us in a true state of teshuvah and ask us to forgive them – we are obligated to grant them our forgiveness.
Now I understand that there are certain things that seem unforgivable. Some wounds heal very slowly and others never heal. Forgiveness is not always possible. And yet, we cannot forgo the process – even when it is painful. That is the price that we pay for living in community.
The following questions are designed to help us all look at the current state of our relationships with family, friends and colleagues. They should in no way be seen as a complete list. They are a beginning.
- How many times in the past year have I taken the love, trust and friendship that others offer me for granted?
- Will I be able to forgive those who come to me to ask for my forgiveness?
- What acts of forgiveness have I been a part of this year? How did the act of forgiving others make me feel?
- Are there people I have wronged that I need to ask to forgive me?
- Have I taken part in any business or personal transactions this past year that were against my religious, moral or ethical principles?
- Have I taken time recently to let the most important people in my life know how much I care about them?
- 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 any of these questions causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantors Heit and Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity. Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. I will also post them on my blog – which is linked to both Facebook and our Temple Emanuel website.
If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, contact the Temple and we will send them to you.
L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – May you have a good and sweet new year,
Rabbi Joseph R. Black