What We Need in the New Year: Forgiveness

Dear Friends,

This week, I read the d’var Torah by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that I shared last night at services. It explored the theme of forgiveness, one inspired by this week’s Torah portion. I’d like us to discuss for just a moment this morning how we might become more forgiving to each other in 2018, especially while we still might want to engage in activities and pursue goals that might keep each other apart.

My go-to solution is that if we keep our focus on always acting according to Jewish values, we can use them as the fulcrum for balancing our actions and our conversations with each other on social issues and politics. The problem, of course, and where my solution hits a snag, is on how each one of us prioritizes those very values. 

Many years ago, based on an activity that I had learned at a Jewish educators’ professional day, I ran a Jewish values auction at a youth activity that I led here – the participants were given a list of Jewish values that they could trade until they had the three that they most wanted. Then, using the short stacks of play money each had been given, we auctioned off those values, so that they could see how strongly they wanted the ones they had chosen. Those teens who took the activity seriously used it as an opportunity to consider their own values.

How do we prioritize our own values? When do we take the time to consider what is most important to us? I believe that when most of us do consider those values and understand our priorities, we will know that ahavat Yisrael, love of our Jewish people, will often fall near the top of the list, not far below love of our own families. Strengthening that love and protecting it should be even more important to a community such as ours. We have always prided ourselves on being a heimishe congregation welcoming, warm, and open. Hurtful and rancorous speech that denigrates each other’s political viewpoints is counterproductive to the goal of maintaining a harmonious community.

But how do we not speak of those things in the world that most concern us? It is not helpful, and it is most certainly not Jewish, to stick our heads in the sand or to constantly self-censor.

My suggestion is that we do express ourselves, and continue to actively try to make our country a more just place, but to also practice radical forgiveness – to forgive each other’s occasional untamed language and untempered viewpoints, and to forgive past arguments that we have had with others. This is easier if our disagreements never become ad hominem attacks on each other! Let’s stick to issues, state and illustrate the Jewish value that we are modeling, and at the end of the day, remain loving and accepting congregants. We always aim to begin the Jewish New Year with a clean slate before each other and before G-d – let us try to do the same as we enter the secular new year if we want 2018 to be one of greater peace and understanding.

 Shabbat Shalom!