Friday, September 2, 2016

Parashat Re'eh: Forgiveness

There's a beautiful tale found in the Zohar, that central text of Jewish mysticism. We read there of a Rabbi Abba who once sat at the gateway of the town of Lud, which is now the home to Ben Gurion Airport. He saw a traveler sit down on a pile of rocks at the edge of a mountain overlooking a cliff. The man was exhausted from his long journey and immediately fell asleep. Rabbi Abba watched this innocuous scene for a bit until to his dismay he saw a deadly snake slither out of the rocks making its away toward the sleeping man. A giant lizard suddenly jumped out between the rocks and killed the serpent. Then the man awoke and stood up, perplexed to see a beheaded snake lying in front of him. He quickly gathered his posessions and rose to continue his journey. As he did so, the pile of rocks he was sitting on collaped and fell into the ravine below.  
Rabbi Abba ran after the man and recounted everything he had witnessed. He asked, "My friend, to what do you attribute all these miracles that just transpired?" The traveler responded as follows... 
"...Never have I gone to sleep without forgiving someone for hurting me in any way. If anyone ever hurt me, I always endeavored, with all my heart, to resolve whatever animosity was between us, and...I would turn the hateful situation into an opportunity to do acts of kindness for the person involved in the misunderstanding." (From Rosh Hashanah Readings
Of course, this is a fairy tale; a fable, meant to inspire us and perhaps hit us over the head with the idea of forgiveness. And yet, and yet...isn't it true that forgiveness--real forgiveness, the real act of turning and responding to another's actions with love, creativity and gentle rebuke--saves us from harm, real and imagined? Or, to put it another way, how many of us know people who are still torn up, torn apart, having never been forgiven or never offered forgiveness, the corrosion of anger still eating them away?

In parashat Re'eh, we read a series of blessings and curses, and the S'fat Emet, in his reading, remins us that the blessings begin with the word, "when", and the curses with the word "if"; that is to say, Goodness exists by our nature; sin is only incidental. Art Green points out that this is God being generous and forgiving of Israel; shouldn't that be true for us as well? Shouldn't we be able to see the goodness in people's intentions and judge them accordingly, while also find a way to forgive the actions when they go astray, and lead people back toward blessing?

The month of Elul begins on Sunday; that means we're right around one month to Rosh Hashanah. Now is the time, if we haven't done so already, to begin the hard work of asking forgiveness, of forgiving others, and for finding a way to turn hateful situations into acts of kindness, and to make curses into blessings. May we do so, and find ourselves sleeping soundly and without incident.

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