0 Posted by - October 2, 2014 - Chagim


Yom Kippur

our way back from Tashlich, a yeshiva student approached me with a touchy subject. I asked him if he believes in this Tashlich thing, that you can get rid of sin, do Teshuvah and become a new person. He said he did not believe that G-d lets us just throw away our sins, especially if there are high stakes that the sins might be repeated. “I am not going to really change anyway. I am the same guy as last year and two years ago, and I know that there will be another Yom Kippur that I will have to change again anyway. So, why should I invest my efforts into something that will fail, to begin with? ”

I asked him, “What would happen if you tried a bit harder to learn, to pray, to be a better you… What would happen then?” His answer was, “It’s nice. But then, sometime soon, when I catch myself doing what I am not supposed to do, seeing what I am not supposed to see, then I view myself as if all the good that I did was all a fake! Why should I aspire to spiritual greatness, put my mind and heart towards that when I am, anyway, a spiritual shrimp? “ Good question.

And this is how I responded. The main theme in the Amidah of Mussaf Rosh Hashana is Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot.  Zichronot are about how G-d reminds Himself of actions or situations that caused Him to be merciful, and put into action His attribute of mercy. The first on the list is how G-d remembered Noah in the Ark and saved him. This year, I bought a new R. H. Machzor, and what it said in the footnote brought me to tears… “Even though we do not have deeds that make us deserving of being remembered for the good in judgment, when we measure these deeds against ourselves , (- for most of our good actions are tainted with emptiness -) even so, compared to others that are on yet a lower level than ours, we are worthy of Your love and compassion. For, just as You remembered Noah with love when You judged him, Your love to him was not determined by the greatness of Noah’s acts ( as R Yochanan said, Noah lacked Emunah. He lacked faith in G-d and did not enter the Ark  until the water reached his ankles, for he did not believe that there would really be a flood). Still, You remembered Noah with love, when You compared him to the people of his generation. נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו

There are endless perspectives from which G-d can view us in judgment. By and large, the way we judge ourselves, the way we judge others, is in accordance with our expectations of them and our view of how they are supposed to act. Who says our expectations are realistic, and that this is the way G-d sees things? Who says that someone who tries and fails is a spiritual shrimp, or a faker?

I asked the yeshiva student, “What is the first name of the most serious, most studious boy in Yeshiva?  You know, the one who prays and learns with fire?” “Shimon” , he replied.  “And if you caught Shimon when he was overtaken by his temptations, looking where he is not supposed to, or not living up to his standards, what would your opinion of him be?” “Shimon is one big faker!” was his quick reply.

Why do we judge Shimon like that? Why is Shimon, who learns the whole day with fire, prays with fire most of the time, considered the fake Shimon, while the Shimon that we caught when his Yetzer Harah caught him, is the real Shimon? Maybe it is the other way around!!! Maybe Shimon who was caught by his Yetzer Hara was the fake Shimon, the Shimon who is faking it, while the real Shimon is the one we know in the Study Hall!!

This is the core element of all forgiveness. The art of reframing.  Reframing the context.  “In light of …,” things are different. This is how we can forgive ourselves and others, and this is how G-d forgives us. G-d does not just let things go. That is not what forgiveness is about. Forgiveness is powered by G-d’s Mercy, Rachamim. The root of the word Rachamim is Rechem, a womb. A womb makes place within itself for something else, even though there is, ostensibly, no more room. Rachamim is making room for another perspective. Looking at yourself, at others, in a way that will give room for justification.

The all-time master of reframing perspectives was R’ Levi Yitzhak from Berdichev, who would always find a way to judge a Jew in the most positive light, even the greatest sinner. His Hassid noticed that when he was invited to attend a Brit Milah, his Rebbe always asked,  if there would be a proper Seudah. Otherwise, he did not attend. The Hassid asked R’ Levi Yitzchak why he wanted to make sure that a proper Seuda had been planned.

“My greatest defense for the sinners of the Jewish Nation to the prosecuting angels is the Seudah of a Mitzvah. Even the greatest sinner in Klal Yisrael does not throw a party when he “sins big”. Most sins are committed in private. But for a Mitzvah, we make a Seudah, we make a whole  ta-ra-rum. This merit cries out to the Heavens that we are happy to perform mitzvoth, and we are not happy about our sins! A proper Seudat Mitzvah is prime time for presenting this claim to the Heavens!!”

It is hard to forgive others, even though it is something we all want to do before Yom Kippur. And it is even harder for us to forgive ourselves. But, if you cannot respect others for the good things they do, finding a perspective from which you can forgive them,  you will continue on for another year holding the same emotional pain in your heart. And, if you can’t respect yourself for the “little spiritual things“ you do, like wearing a Yarmulke, then you can never believe that you are worthy of investing energy in your spiritual goals.

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