Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

How To Forgive Even When It Hurts

When his mother died, Mark began to go through her belonging. Knowing she was meticulously organized, he was not surprised to find a stack of daily planners. They covered the years 1948-1997.

He began to look through them and saw a clear pattern. Every day had a list. Most items on the list had lines through them, indicating they had been completed. Incomplete ones had a circle around them.


Beginning in 1955, every October 22nd the entry “Call Sylvia” was etched at the top of the page. October 22nd was Sylvia’s birthday, and Mark’s mom intended to call her. But every year it remained circled in red, incomplete.

His mother, and her sister-in-law Sylvia, had had some sort of falling out. No one remembered when or why.

In 1987 the item finally had a line running through it. Underneath the entry read, “Visited the cemetery. Told Sylvia I was sorry.”

How Did It Get This Way?

For 32 years two relatives could not speak to one another, even though at least one of them wanted to. It was too hard, too painful. Just imagine what life would been had they made amends. One less hole in heart at the time of death. One less piece of unfinished business. (I first heard this story from Rabbi David Whiman)

How many of us walk around with a hole in our hearts? How many of us want to forgive but can’t or won’t? For some even the thought of forgiveness can generate enormous pain and resistance.

There is no three- or ten-step process for forgiving. If there was, we would all know it. There are only questions we can ask ourselves. Here are a few to consider:

Questions To Ask Ourselves

1. What did I do? There is a difference between being right and being effective. We may (rightly) believe we did nothing wrong in creating the rift in a relationship. We may think our brother or our sister has rewritten history, imagining we said things we never said.

But something happened. Understanding that, and trying to appreciate the situation from the other’s point of view, will help immensely in giving us strength and perspective to forgive.

2. Am I hurting myself? We tend to magnify the way others see us. We assume that what consumes our attention also consumes theirs. This truth often creates misunderstanding in a marriage. It can also impede healing and reconciliation. We think we are “teaching him a lesson” when we withhold forgiveness. We think we are achieving some kind of vengeance. We think that to forgive is to condone.

Forgiving is not condoning. It is moving on. It is removing a roadblock on our path. Forgiveness is a  gift we give ourselves.

3. Am I asking too much of someone else? We often wait for the other person to make a move. Perhaps they are not capable of doing so. Perhaps they hurt as we do.

In the classic work of Jewish wisdom, Ethics of the Fathers, the sages taught, “In a place where there are on human beings, be a human being.” In other words, do the right thing regardless of what another person does.

4. How would I feel if the relationship was repaired? We may have learned to live with the broken relationship. Life demands it.

Yet, just as a scab conceals a hidden wound, silence can hide a hurting heart. Envisioning a healing, a reconciliation, can strengthen our motivation. Imagine the way forgiveness would feel.

5. If not now, when? 

 

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Inspire Yourself and Discover More, check out Rabbi Moffic’s free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

 

You are not Special. You are Holy.

Are you special? A Massachusetts English teacher recently made headlines when answered this question with a resounding “No!”

you are not special

Speaking to graduates at an elite high school, David McCullough countered the words of Mr. Rogers and, for the younger generation, the friendly green dinosaur Barney. He said to the graduates, “You are not special. You are not exceptional… You are one person in a plant of 6.8 billion people…”

Why would McCullough say these words? Because he believes them and feels they are important to say. And why say them at a graduation address? Perhaps because he had a captive audience and a chance to make headlines.

The more important question is, “Is he right?”

Yes and no.

He is right because when everyone is special, no one is special. “Special” becomes a common denominator that loses any meaning or uniqueness. A rabbinic colleague once told me of a time when members of his congregation began to chide him because he referred to every weekly biblical reading as “special.” Special had become normal.

McCullough is also right because no one is without limitations. Some interpret “special” as above the law or superior to everyone else. “The rules don’t apply to me,” some think, “because I am special.” McCullough is right to chastise those who think this way.

In the Image of God

Yet, for people of faith, McCullough is wrong. A core teaching of the Bible is that every human being is created in the image of God. Every person is sacred and special.

This truth is brought to life in beautiful Jewish parable. The parable compares a human being who creates coins to God who creates human beings.

When a coinmaker makes coins, they all look the same. When God makes human beings, they all look different. Each of us is different. Hence, each of us is special.

We Are Holy

Perhaps we can replace the word “special” with the word “holy.” In Hebrew the word for special and holy is kadosh. To be kadosh  is to be set apart, to be special, to be different than others. It does not imply superiority or power or special privileges.

Rather, it demands responsibility. We are special when we choose to be special. When we choose to act on our unique gifts and talents and realize them in the world.

Do you think the word “special” has lost its importance? What does the word “holy” mean to you?

Does God Hear Our Prayers?

A classic joke by comic Emo Phillips captures our frustration with prayer. “When I was a kid,” he writes, “I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”

does God hear our prayer

Emo was right. Prayer doesn’t work that way. It is not about asking God for things. It is about reminding us of what is most valuable in life. It is about reminding us of the gifts we already have. And it is about aligning ourselves with a power in the universe greater than ourselves.

What Matters in Life

Malcolm Gladwell talked about the way we make decisions in his book Blink. We usually make decisions about people, about purchases or about what to say in the blink of an eye. In other words, we do not think much about it. We act by instinct.

Where do these instincts come from? How are they developed? We develop them through education. We learn them from our parents. And we can hone them in prayer.

How Prayer Works

Prayer hones our values by guidng us to see the forest through the trees. When we say, for example, that God heals the sick, we are not envisioning God as a cosmic physician.

We are reminding ourselves of the sacredness of life and of the relationships that matter most. We are reminding ourselves that we are meant to live, and that our words and actions can help heal others. God heals through us.

The Gifts We Have

One of the core principles of a life of faith is that life is a gift. This truth is embedded in Judaism. The Hebrew word for Judaism is “yehadut,” which shares its linguistic root with “hodaot,” the Hebrew word for “thanksgiving.” In other words, Judaism means thanksgiving. Giving thanks is one of the core ways we express our faith.

Prayer is the primary way we do that. We thank God for our breath, for a functioning body, for life and for teaching us how to live. Among our most religious acts is saying “thank you.”

A Power Greater than Ourselves

The 19th century English poet Matthew Arnold described God as the “power greater than ourselves that makes for righteousness.” By describing God as a “power,” Arnold suggests that God gives direction and energy to human existence.

By seeing that power as “greater than ourselves,” Arnold acknowledges that God is not limited by the natural world. God both exists in the world and transcends it. In other words, we can experience God in our lives, but we can never say precisely what God is.

I love this approach because it forces us to be humble. God cannot be captured by any one creed or set of beliefs. God is too big for that. Yet, God is not so big and mysterious as to be irrelevant. God’s relevance and power are made real by our acts of righteousness.

Does God Hear Our Prayers?

Yes, but only if we hear them too.

How To Make Your Life A Blessing

Jewish tradition tells the story of a wise man who met with a king. The king challenged the man with a riddle. He said, “In my hands is a small bird. Is it alive or dead?” The wise man paused and looked down.to make our lives a blessing

He thought to himself, “If I say it is alive, he will close his hand and crush it. If I say it is dead, he will open his hand and let it fly away.” The wise man turned his head up and said in a soft yet commanding voice, “It’s all in your hands.”

The same is true for us. Our lives are in our hands. It is not always be easy. We face struggle, challenges, difficulties. Yet, like the Biblical Jacob, we can derive blessings from them. We can, to use the beautiful phrase of the late singer Debbie Friedman, “find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”

I believe Judaism’s gift to the world is teaching us how. This blog will be devoted to uncovering those lessons.

To make our lives we blessings, we need to count our blessings and speak our blessings. 

  • Counting our blessings: As a father of two young children, I am truly blessed. Yet that’s easy to forget at 3:00 AM when one child’s loud crying wakes up the other.

One of the ways I remind myself is by following an ancient Jewish custom. In Judaism the first thing we are       supposed to do each morning is sit up and say the words, “I am grateful to you, Oh God, who has restored my soul from sleep and given me the breath of life.”

No sighing. No turning our pillows over and burying our heads in them. We recognize the blessing of life. We prime ourselves to live with gratitude. We count our blessings and find happiness in them.

  • Saying blessings: It is not enough, however, to recognize and count our blessings. We have to say them. Acknowledge them. Speak them. That’s why the ancient Jewish sages urged us to say 100 blessings a day!

Something magical happens when we give expression to our feelings. About a month ago, I saw an example of this magic. I was in my office when a member of my congregation came by. He had a burning question.

“I was dining at a restaurant in New York,” he began. “A few tables away from me a man stood up and proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes, and everybody in the restaurant cheered. Then the man walked quietly over to a corner, put on a yamacha (a Jewish ritual headcovering), and said some type of blessing. His and his fiance’s eyes filled with tears. Rabbi, do you have any idea what blessing he said.” jewish blessings

I recited a blessing I thought it might be, and he said, “Yes, that’s it! Do you have a copy?” “Sure,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“I am planning to propose to my girlfriend this weekend, and I want to say it with her.”
With tears in my eyes, I handed him the blessing.

How a Blessing Works

Blessings express our feelings. They need not be traditional ones. They simply need to come from the heart. When they do, they can change our lives.

I experienced this truth near the end of my grandfather’s life. We were very close. Up until his death, I tried to talk to or visit him every day. We would usually end our conversations with my saying “Talk to you tomorrow.” We did not say, “I love you.” He was not a warm fuzzy kind of guy, and it just did not feel right.

But during the last few weeks of his life, something changed. Perhaps it was the birth of my daughter Hannah, or perhaps it was his declining condition. Our moments became more fused with meaning.

Saying I Love You

A month before he died, I was sitting by his bed and we were talking. As I got up to leave, I felt a twitch in my stomach. I turned to him and said, “Grandpa, I love you.” He didn’t say anything. But our connection had changed. Thereafter, we ended each conversation with my saying “I love you.”

Saying I love you to our dearest ones blesses them and us. It is a way we make our lives a blessing.

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