I find that at this time of year, when Yom Kippur is beginning to be on our radar, many of us have ‘forgiveness’ on our mind.
Usually this is not in the ivory tower of theology, although one could argue that the entirety of Torah is God’s attempt to work through a dysfunctional relationship with human beings.
In these days approaching the Days of Awe, for many of us, ‘forgiveness’ is very much in the dirty trenches of what we would call ‘family dysfunction.’
Almost every extended family has some of it.
It is messy, and hurtful, and often takes on characteristics of being chronic.
The reasons for family dysfunction are in some ways simple: human beings are complicated, and family dynamics are complex.
But the longer it goes on, the harder it seems for us to find resolution other than acceptance that this is just ‘how it is.’
As a rabbi who engages in a good deal of pastoral care, it’s clear to me that hurtful family dynamics are present all year round. However, the Jewish holidays present a glimpse of something that looks like hope.
We are, as a people, coming into a shared sense of time and purpose. We all know that The High Holidays are meant to help us adjust our lives, our priorities, and our relationships. So for those relationships which are/were dear to us, but are now injured, we once again are able to shine a shared spotlight. Perhaps it is as simple as the realization that our time on earth is limited and we each have a finite number of High Holidays to celebrate. Perhaps it’s the conspicuous absence of someone in your life as you turn the pages of your machzor.
What I love about this time of year is that Judaism empowers us, together, to try again.
My wife, Marita, who is my very best partner in this spiritual journey of learning and living a meaningful life, defines ‘forgiveness’ as “letting go of the wish that the past was different.” There is real wisdom in this. It’s not about solving what happened or rewriting the facts that have led us up to now. Doing so is so difficult that it can verge on impossible. Once we ‘let go’ of what is not, we can begin again with the honest possibility of what might be, without the baggage.
The other approach that speaks to me this year is looking at ‘forgiveness’ as an acknowledgement that the relationship is more important to us than being right. I like this because it presents a binary choice, and it forces us to choose. Doing nothing, by the way, is a choice.
I don’t pretend to have the answers. I don’t. But these damaged relationships are often hugely important, and their damaged status can cause crippling regret and sorrow.
I do know, however, that Jews everywhere are approaching this incredible time with a sense of openness for change. Judaism affords us all this amazing opportunity each year at this season. There are no guarantees other than that the proverbial ‘gates are open’.
Will you walk through? Will you invite that person whom you are thinking of right now to walk through with you? It is that time of year…
I wish you resolve, and fortitude, and strength to give it a try.
Shana tova & Shabbat shalom,