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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Elul 9 - by Nancy Taxman

A familiar Midrash suggests that the best way to live a life of righteous deeds is simply to imitate the actions of the Almighty: As G-d made clothing for Adam and Eve, we too should clothe the naked…As G-d comforts Isaac after his father’s death, we should likewise comfort mourners…and so forth.  This deceptively simple formula is one foundation of mussar, the Jewish study of  the middot,  the attributes of conduct.  At this time of year, a middah of choice is slichah, i.e. forgiveness. 

The Torah gives us examples of Divine slichah, including sinners like Jonah, who is pardoned after his nautical adventures despite trying to evade God’s instructions.  As G-d forgives Jonah, so too must we try for forgiveness; because we are created in God’s image.

However this attempt is not so easy.  Even G-d has trouble with slichah—remember those who worshipped the golden calf? Thankfully,  God’s mercy is greater than God’s justice.  —“Come back to Me,” G-d tells Isaiah, “for I have redeemed Thee.”    

Mussar teaches power—strength—gevurah  is the foundation of forgiveness.  Mussar teaches that forgiveness is “built on gevurah, because it takes enormous strength to truly forgive, just as it does to seek forgiveness.” 

It isn’t easy to emulate the Almighty, but it can be done.  Consider the granddaughter of Ethel Lance, murdered in Charleston, SC, who told the  killer: “You hurt me.  You hurt a lot of people.  But I forgive you.”  Amazing grace, but also understand that, according to Mussar, forgiveness is not forgetting: “Slichah is like removing nails from wood…the hole remains…this is how we learn and gain strength.”

This Elul, I hope (and pray) that we can all find the strength we need not just to offer forgiveness, but also to seek it for ourselves. 

Shanah Tovah

Nancy Taxman

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  1. Ms Taxman,

    Thank you for encouraging us to be forgiving. Actually, thank you for encouraging me to be more forgiving.

    I especially appreciated your comment, God’s mercy is greater than God’s justice. It is necessary for me to remind myself of this often. G-d’s anger is frightening. The Talmud asks, ‘How long is God’s anger? One moment. And how long is one moment? 158,888th part of an hour.’ Berachot 7a

  2. Thank you, Nancy, for your wonderful post. It offers a hope, a reason, and a path to discover and move closer to the attributes that are so meaningful during this High Holiday season, and beyond. Shanah Tovah

  3. Nancy, Very beautifully stated. Bill E