It has been on my heart as we prepare ourselves spiritually in this month of Elul, to talk about having right relationships with G-d and others.
First, I would like to read some scriptures from Tanakh and the Besorah:
In the Beatitudes, Yeshua lays the groundwork for righteousness in His kingdom. These were first directed at the People of Israel:
"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see G-d."
"Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of G-d"
In Micah 6 Hashem states:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your G-d.“
G-d created us to have relationships. The most important relationship is the one we have with Him through our faith in Yeshua. And when we have a healthy, personal, intimate connection with Hashem, we can have good relationships with the people in our lives.
In the act of forgiveness, Judaism distinguishes transgressions between “man and his fellow” and those between “man and God.” A necessary condition for God’s forgiveness is that the wrongdoer should first seek and receive forgiveness from person(s) whom he or she has injured.
Joseph was an example of how important it is for each of us to forgive those who have offended us. Forgiveness is a practice for all year long, not just for the season of Yom Kippur. It is not just on that one sacred day that each of us stands in need of the Almighty’s forgiveness. We need His forgiveness at every moment of our lives.
The prophet Micah (7:18) asked: “Who is a G-d like You, tolerating iniquity and forgiving transgression ... ?” Upon which, the Talmud states (Rosh Hashanah 17a): “Whose iniquities does G-d tolerate? A person who forgives the transgressions of another.” This entails great responsibility on our part.
It’s God’s will for us to live in peace and harmony with one another. In 1 Peter 3:11, it says we must search for peace (with Hashem, with self, with others) and pursue it eagerly .
So, what prevents us from having peace with ourselves with Hashem and others?
Having a wrong mindset and heart attitude for one.
Having a judgmental and critical mindset can not only bring torment to ourselves but it can damage or destroy relationships.
In Matthew 7: Yeshua says, "Judge not, that you may not be judged."
Sometimes we can see what is wrong with others rather than what is right. It can become a mindset or a lense in which we continue to see people.
I recently read online about an ongoing feud between Kathie Lee Gifford (a well-known television celebrity and singer who also happens to be a Christian believer) and Howard Stern.
For 3 decades Howard belittled and showed hostility and hatred to this well-known star.
Kathie Lee never met him. Never listened to his show. But she knew and heard that he hated everything she stood for.
During an airing of "America's Got Talent" where Howard was a judge, Kathie Lee was in the same building and decided to go up and introduce herself and wished him the best with the show.
He was flabbergasted. Next thing she knew, Kathie Lee received a message from him on voicemail. He said he was blown away and asked her to call him. He said: "Will you forgive me Kathie, please? I'm doing some hard work on my life. I know I hurt you. I'm so sorry and I need to ask you to forgive me.
Gifford said that she forgave him “30 years ago” and prays for him “every single day.”
What if we all could do this. Be this forgiving.
Earlier this year, Hashem gave me the opportunity to learn to forgive. Right before my art class ended for the year, my teacher said to me: "You have no business doing art shows. You haven't been painting that long and you don't have the level of talent you need."
I was hurt and shocked! The year previous she had told me I was ready to do shows. I didn't know where she was coming from, but I was tempted to shut the door and never return.
The last day of class we had a critique of our work and then there is usually a party. Typically, students give gifts to our teacher as a way of showing appreciation.
As most of you know, I am an avid knitter and I had made a lovely little knit handbag.
I felt a nudge from the Ruach (Spirit of Hashem) to give her this purse. I loved this purse and there was no way I was going to give it to HER!!!
Yeshua says in the Besorah, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
He also says we should love, pray for and do good to our enemies.
So, I gave my teacher my purse and she was so grateful. I don't know if it changed her opinion of me, but I know that I had a right heart towards her and towards Hashem.
So, what are other ways we can move toward blessing and forgiving others. Read scripture. Go to Hashem in prayer and ask Him to remove anger, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Ask for His strength to see others as being in His image. Our tradition reflects the view that all humans are created in the image of G-d.
We are all prone to making quick judgments about the actions, motives and characters of others.
In his book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey illustrates the concept of a paradigm shift when it comes to judging others. In this illustration he was on a New York subway:
"People were sitting quietly-some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm peaceful scene.
Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people's papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, "Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more?" The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, "Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either.
Covey said, "Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?"
We all have faults. We all need grace from one another.
The Baal Shem Tov said that just as we forgive ourselves and find excuses for our bad behavior, we should seek to make excuses for others. This is loving your neighbor as yourself. He also said that when confronted with another's sin, instead of thinking harsh thoughts about them, we should use it as a mirror to reflect that we also have sin and seek to improve ourselves rather than thinking dark thoughts of others.
But what if you disagree with someone that has hurt you?
What are the right avenues to take?
Again, scripture says: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
As President, Over the last year or two, I have had occasion to deal with discord among members.
As a small congregation, it is imperative that we keep our relationships right and have pure hearts. If you are offended, go to the person that has offended you.
Do not talk to others until you have talked to that person. Reason things out. Trust that we all have good intentions and want to do right.
Pray for each other. Pray for our leaders. They have dedicated their lives to serve you.
Remember we all have a responsibility to keep a right heart and mind towards others.
Forgiveness is a major teaching of our Jewish faith. We are encouraged to forgive others who may have sinned against us, and we must seek forgiveness from those against whom we have sinned.
You may ask, what do I get out of this? This person hurt me. Well you get to have peace with G-d, a clear conscience and a deeper, closer relationship with those around you.
Elul is our time to consider these issues. Before we can ask for forgiveness we need to know where we went astray and maybe understand why. Before we can ask to be written in the book of life, we need to know what it means to choose a life of blessings so that this coming year brings us meaning and connection. This includes forgiveness of sins. Then we are able to approach the Divine to make things right and set a course forward for a year where we deliberately choose blessings, knowing what they are and how we might pursue them.
As we approach the High Holy Days, focus on Hashem's great love for you. It is out of this Love that He has equipped us for every good work. Keep your hearts open to Him, repent of your sins and you will experience His blessings.
L'Shanah Tova and Shabbat Shalom.