Re-eh: see, the opening word of this week’s Torah portion. See, I set before you blessing and curse. Look hard. Sometimes it’s hard to see what is blessing and what is curse. What is right and what’s not right. Or what’s no longer right.
Now on the cusp of Elul, the Hebrew month that begins Wednesday and prepares us for the teshuvah–repentance– of the High Holy Day season, we look hard so that we can tell the difference between the blessing and the curse, the good and the bad. We look hard at our choices, our priorities, our relationship with God, our relationships with other people. We examine the conflicts in our lives and devote ourselves to improvement, change, growth.
For this week’s summer crowdsourcing sermon, your clergy posed the question: “Have you ever carried around a grudge or a feeling that did not allow you to move forward completely? Have you ever let go of such a feeling?”
Your responses indicate a challenge around the definition of forgiveness. Is forgiveness more about the person being forgiven or is it more about the one doing the forgiving? Does forgiveness even require an apology?
Who believes forgiveness requires apology? Who believes there can be forgiveness with no apology? Maybe forgiveness is not always the right word. It’s so strong a term it can be almost paralyzing. Forgiveness implies generosity, or love, or approval, or sympathy for the offender, or a hope for re-establishing a relationship. Sometimes we might need to set aside the word forgiveness. Instead, just focus on “Letting go.”
In this week’s RS blog conversation, one of you shared the following:
“For a few years I was very angry at a certain relative, regarding an inheritance. Finally I made a very conscious, rational decision to let go of my anger. I did not like the toxic effect of anger on my psyche. Such anger limited my sense of gratitude. I did not forget; I did not forgive; but I did let go.”
Jewish tradition teaches that there are times when anger is appropriate to hang onto. Anger is constructive when it fuels our fires to repair injustice. It’s our anger that can help us keep our eyes open to hunger, discrimination and violence in this world.
But in our personal relationships, the protective wall of anger, fear and righteous indignation can become a heavy burden that keeps us from moving forward in our lives.
In the book, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Rabbi Alan Lew, teaches: Intensive afflictive states–anger, boredom, fear, guilt, impatience, disappointment, anxiety–call us to transformation…These feelings are so familiar to us, we usually believe them to be part of our intrinsic being. They are not, and in this sacred time of transformation, when we are finally awake, we can see that they are not. We can see--re-eh–that they are just impulses, arising for a moment, the way wind and rain and snow arise for a moment in the world. They are wind and rain and snow, but they are not the world. They are not us. They only become us by our own choice, by our choosing to see them that way, by our choosing to cling to them so tenaciously. We can make another choice if we wish to. We can choose to allow these feelings to rise up and then let them fall away again like a hot breeze.
In the RS blog conversation, another of you shared: “After a long and arduous divorce, I was so frustrated and angry that I could feel my blood pressure rise every time the father of my children came to pick them up. My mother asked, ‘Can you forgive him?’ I responded, ‘Never!’ Then, she said, ‘Well, let God take care of him . You concentrate on loving and raising your children.’ And, that’s what I did. I am very proud of both of them.”
What a great way to say “let it go!” “Let God take care of him.” Whether or not you believe that’s exactly how God works, the message I hear from this mother to this suffering daughter was– you don’t have time for this anger, for this high blood pressure. Don’t let this man have power over you; don’t let him be your problem.
Whether or not forgiveness involves reconciliation, it can be the force that allows us to let go and to move forward.
Rabbi Lew teaches: Anger is a choice. We are responsible for the state of our own consciousness. We can choose to let go of anger, boredom, guilt, with a clear intention to let these feelings go.
Again and again our tradition teaches: we have free will. Rashi, the favorite Torah commentator of our beloved congregant Lee Stanley, of blessed memory, Rashi teaches: “Everything is in the Hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven.” The fear of heaven as Rashi calls it, or the source of our conscience as we might call it, lies in our own hands. We can choose.
On Yom Kippur, we will recite the words of the Hasidic Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, declaring: “If anyone has hurt or harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them.” As we spend this next month preparing to recite those words, let us re-eh--let us look deeply into ourselves and shine a light in places of conflict. May the words our tradition offers in this season of tshuvah–repentance– awaken within us an intention to let go and to move forward.