Tag Archives: forgiveness

Lessons in Christian Repentance on Yom Kippur

Adam trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain.

Then he stopped, spun around and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! You had this all planned! You put that fruit there knowing I would eat from it! This is all a plot!”

There was no reply.

Without failure, we can never truly reach into the depths of our souls. Only once we have failed can we return and reach higher and higher without end.

Beyond Eden.

“Failure”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I previously said that in examining what the Bible says about how we non-Jews are to relate to God, I’d be staying mainly in the Apostolic Scriptures, since righteous Gentiles in the Tanakh (Old Testament) aren’t specifically oriented to Yeshua (Jesus).

However, since I’m writing this just before the start of Yom Kippur, and given that Adam, the first man, could not be considered Jewish but had a direct relationship with Hashem, I thought I’d write a little about how we Gentiles can fail and then return to God.

According to the above-quoted statement from Rabbi Freeman, God planned for Adam and Havah (Eve) to fail. Well, maybe He did and maybe He didn’t. However, if we believe God knows everything and is not bound by time or causality, then certainly before He “laid the foundations of the Earth,” He knew Adam and Havah would partake of the one thing in Eden that was forbidden to them.

So from Adam’s point of view, maybe it’s true that God “planned” for them to fail.

exileI can only imagine that, since they had nothing else to compare it to, Adam and Havah rather took their relationship and intimacy with God for granted…that is until it was severely damaged by their fall.

Is God as concerned about the sins of the Gentiles and their potential for repentance as He is for the Jews? A traditional Christian would automatically answer “yes,” but what would a Jew think? My opinion, based on a lot of years of study, tells me that most observant Jews would believe that God is more concerned about the spiritual state of the Jewish people than of Gentiles (and particularly Christians).

But is this true?

In an absolute sense, unless we can read God’s mind, so to speak, we can’t know.

However, we can take an educated guess and Yom Kippur sets the stage for this.

A day or so ago, I read an article called Jonah and the Whale: Why the Book of Jonah is Read on Yom Kippur. The question is why is this particular book read on Yom Kippur, the most Holy Day of the Jewish year?

The Book of Jonah is read in the synagogue on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the sacred Day of Atonement. Why, of all books in the Bible, this book this most holy day?

The answer is clear. The major themes of the book are singularly appropriate to the occasion—sin and divine judgment, repentance and divine forgiveness.

What is remarkable is that the work is not at all about Israel. The sinners and penitents and the sympathetic characters are all pagans, while the anti-hero, the one who misunderstands the true nature of the one God, is none other than the Hebrew prophet. He is the one whom God must teach a lesson in compassion.

JonahIt’s actually an astonishing revelation when you think about it. Almost without exception, only Jews observe Yom Kippur in any fashion at all, and yet, we see in the reading of the Book of Jonah, that the main objects of God’s concern for repentance, redemption, and reconciliation are a large group of pagan Gentiles. Further, the only Jew involved is reluctant to be an agent of redemption for these Gentiles, so much so that he literally “jumps ship” in attempting to get away from his responsibilities.

The brief article goes on to say:

It is precisely these aspects of this sublime prophetic allegory, and in particular the subthemes of the book, that inform Yom Kippur. These motifs attracted the ancient Jewish sages and led them to select Jonah as one of the day’s two prophetic lectionaries (The other is Isaiah 57:14–58:4). Its universalistic outlook; its definition of sin as predominantly moral sin (The “evil” of Jonah 1:2 is defined as injustice in Jonah 3:8); its teaching of human responsibility and accountability; its apprehension that true repentance is determined by deeds and established by transformation of character (Jonah 3:10), not by the recitation of formulas, however fervent; its emphasis on the infinite preciousness of all living things in the sight of God (Jonah 4:10–11); and, finally, its understanding of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness” (Jonah 4:2)—all these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur.

The “universalistic outlook” to how sin is defined as primarily moral, human responsibility and accountability to God, and how repentance is accessible to everyone through deeds and established by transformation of character.

So for the Gentile as well as the Jew, God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness.”

While the essay’s author Nahum Sarna states that “these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur,” we also see (apparently) that these “noble ideas” are equally applied to Gentile repentance and reconciliation to God.

As I said some months ago, we aren’t so much chopped liver after all. Although God sent a Jewish prophet (yes, in the Bible, we do find a few non-Jewish prophets) to redeem Gentile Nineveh, God’s primary purpose was to redeem Gentile Nineveh.

And guess what? Everyone, from the King down to the lowliest commoner, mourned, fasted, and repented and were subsequently forgiven by God.

I was explaining to someone at work, a Christian (we were discussing Yom Kippur), how the process of repentance and forgiveness of willful sin was the same in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the days of the Temple as it is today. There was no sacrifice for willful sin. Psalm 51 teaches us that how we are to repent hasn’t changed over time.

praying aloneThe Book of Jonah teaches us that a Gentile is of just as much concern to God as a Jew and that He seeks repentance from all.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NASB)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

So non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah can take heart and realize we too have our hope in the God of Israel, because, no matter how special Israel is to God, all people, even the lowliest from the nations, are special to Him (though probably not in the same way as Israel) as well.

One of the unintentional messages I think some non-Jews think they hear from Messianic Judaism is that in Israel’s specialness to God, we non-Jews who are “Judaically aware” are pretty non-special as well. I think that’s why some Gentiles have chosen to leave Messianic Judaism and either transition to Hebrew Roots, which they may see as more egalitarian, or return to Church, which is very much a “pro-Gentile” environment.

It’s also probably one of the reasons some Gentiles who have been involved in Messianic Judaism, have rejected Messiah and converted to (usually) Orthodox Judaism.

Jonah's KikayonHowever, the non-Jewish believer, whether they are Judaically aware or not (although such awareness gives we Gentiles, in my opinion, a better and more accurate understanding of the Bible), even isolated from community on some metaphorical deserted island, can be comforted by the fact that God wants us to return to Him, too.

In creating the whole of existence, G‑d made forces that reveal Him and forces that oppose Him—He made light and He made darkness.

One who does good brings in more light. One who fails, feeds the darkness.

But the one who fails and then returns transcends that entire scheme. He reaches out directly to the Essential Creator. Beyond darkness and light.

And so, his darkness becomes light.

“Returning Light”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

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Failure Is Always An Option

Failure is not an option.

attributed to Gene Kranz,
retired NASA Flight Director

I really wasn’t going to mention Derek’s latest blog post. What I had to say, I said there in my comments. But then something happened.

I am very encouraged by the overwhelming amount of support people are expressing toward Derek, with just a few, minor detractors chiming in.

We all have our problems, our failures, and our sins. They become much more public and more powerful when you happen to be a teacher and an organizational leader, especially in a movement as “intimate” as Messianic Judaism, where most folks involved have at least heard of each other if not personally know one another.

I suppose it’s one of the reasons why many of us should not be teachers (James 3:1).  Who wants that kind of pressure, especially if we should sin (and who doesn’t sin)?

I was reading the latest installment at the lyfta på jobbet blog this morning when I came across a link to the article Failure Is Always An Option.

That certainly flies in the face of American particularism, independence, and a “get-er-done” attitude, and it probably wouldn’t have sat very well with the above-quoted Gene Kranz as he dedicated his efforts to rescuing the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13.

But let’s face it, we’re all human. Failure is one of our defining qualities. Not that we should revel in failure, but it’s arrogant to presume that you or I will never sin.

Yet, some of our sins are rather spectacular and some of our sins are astonishing and shocking when they come into the public light. Some of our sins hurt not only us, but every one we have ever loved.

Even with confession, repentance, and undeserved forgiveness, the guilt can still be crushing.

I’m grateful for Derek’s sake, for everyone’s sake, particularly for my sake, that God is more forgiving than most human beings…more forgiving than I certainly am toward myself.

In the Future Buzz article I cited above, author Adam Singer wrote:

Failure is a beautiful thing, and if you organize your business around it you can gain a serious advantage over competitors who think they’re infallible and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to be perfect versus trying lots of things, failing like crazy, and seeing what sticks. The truth is we all fail, every one of us, and when you really stop and remove the societal stigmas associated with it, you realize it’s not actually a negative.

Granted, this particular message is directed toward a business and marketing environment, and yet it has applications on the social, personal, and religious levels of our existence. If we allow our sin to crush us, to prevent us from repenting, to inhibit the idea that there can be a road back, not only to God, but to our family and friends, then we truly have been defeated.

Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again.

―Mary Pickford

fallingThere’s a plethora of similar quotes available on the web. I just picked the first one that came up in a Google search.

No one, no sports hero, champion, competitor in any human endeavor, or any human being at all has failed until they allow their failure to result in giving up.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

Easier said than done as I imagine the Apostle Paul can attest.

And yet, it’s not the depth of sin we have fallen into that defines us but how we recover afterward.

Failure is always an option. It happens to us every day. Sometimes it happens with brutal intensity and swiftness, and when our failure is revealed for all to see, it’s easy to wonder how we’re going to survive the shame and humiliation. It’s easy to imagine the bridges have been burned and that our only option is, like Icarus, to fall out of the light and into the darkness.

Failure is always an option, but failure does not have to be permanent.

I can only imagine that it took a tremendous amount of courage for Derek to publicly confess his transgressions on his blog. He could have gone silent and stayed silent, containing the impact to those people directly involved.

No one likes to air their dirty laundry.

I wouldn’t recommend this method, but sometimes it may be possible to lead by starting at the bottom. If you have fallen and fallen far, and can pick yourself back up, by Hashem’s strength and grace, and start the long ascent, the rest of us who witness this, can come to realize there’s hope for us too, as we sit at the bottom of our wells and our caves, buried by the darkness and dreaming of the light.

Great Teshuva

My friend and I are having a disagreement about degrees of righteousness in God’s eyes. Who is greater: One who is virtuous by inclination, or one who is virtuous by choice – i.e. one who must struggle with his passions and transform vice into virtue?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud says: “In a place where a ba’al teshuva (spiritual returnee) stands, even a full tzaddik cannot stand” (Brachot 34b). The idea is that by having sunk to the lowest depths, and then genuinely turning one’s life around, the distance traveled in a positive direction is so great that it even exceeds those who have always been on the plus-side.

Shofar as sunrise(Of course, one would not want to deliberately get into a negative situation, because there is no guarantee of coming out. Further, it often leaves residual stains.)

-from the Ask the Rabbi column

That’s only part of the Aish Rabbi’s reply, but it’s the most relevant part. If a life of righteousness comes (relatively) easy to you, what have you really accomplished? However, if acts of righteousness, charity, and piety are difficult, if they go against your nature, if you have to struggle everyday to do good or to recover from some monumental failure, how much greater will your success be than your failure?

Search for God and Find Yourself

God called unto man [Adam] and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:9

We read in Genesis that after Adam sinned, he tried to hide in the Garden of Eden. Was Adam so foolish to think that he could hide from God? Certainly not! He was hiding from himself, because it was himself that he could no longer confront. God’s question to him was very pertinent: “I am here. I am always here, but where are you?”

Adam’s answer to God describes man’s most common defense: “I was afraid because I was exposed, and I therefore tried to hide” (Genesis 3:10). Since people cannot possibly conceal themselves from God, they try to hide from themselves. This effort results in a multitude of problems, some of which I described in Let Us Make Man (CIS, 1987).

We hear a great deal about people’s search for God, and much has been written about ways that we can “find” God. The above verse throws a different light on the subject. It is not necessary for people to find God, because He was never lost, but has been there all the time, everywhere. We are the ones who may be lost.

When an infant closes it eyes, it thinks that because it cannot see others, they cannot see it either. Adults may indulge in the same infantile notion – if they hide from themselves, they think they are hiding from God as well. If we find ourselves by getting to know who we are, we will have little difficulty in finding God, and in letting Him find us.

Today I shall…

…try to establish a closer relationship with God by coming out of hiding from myself.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Shevat 4
Aish.com

As human beings, we have the power to remake ourselves and to some degree, even those around us, just by how we behave and how we choose to think of ourselves and other people. A person who goes around chronically depressed or angry is likely to be pretty unhappy and be surrounded by other depressed or angry people.

OK, it’s more complex than that, but the idea is that if you continually involve yourself in doing good and behaving (and even thinking) as if you are constantly surrounded by good people, it is more likely that you will feel better about yourself, and other people will regard you well. At least it beats the alternative I outlined in the previous paragraph.

Rabbi Twerski brings up an interesting idea. People are always searching for God. I myself mentioned that I am continually pursuing God. Why? Is God running away from me? According to R’ Twerski, it’s the other way around. If I feel the need to pursue God, it’s because I’m the one running away from Him. If I need to search for God, it’s because I’m (futilely) trying to hide from Him. In the end, since no one can run and hide from God, all I accomplish is running and hiding from myself, and probably many other people in my life.

Serenity promotes peaceful and harmonious relationships with other people. We have often cited the verse, “As in water, face to face, so too is the heart of one person to another” (Proverbs 27:19). When you speak serenely to someone, the peaceful energy puts the other person in a better state, and usually that person will speak more pleasantly to you.

(From Rabbi Pliskin’s book, Serenity, p.17)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Serenity Promotes Harmonious Relationships”
from “Today’s Daily Lift #234”
Aish.com

SpeakObviously, this won’t work in every single case, but as a general rule, how you speak to someone (or address them in other ways including digital social media) is going to have an effect on how they respond to you.

But remember that all this starts with you and how you talk to yourself.

You are the person with whom you talk to most often. To become a serene person, consistently talk to yourself serenely.

Become aware of the tone of your voice when you speak to yourself. This often is so automatic that many people never consider it an issue. But it can be a major factor in whether or not you are usually serene.

(From Rabbi Pliskin’s book, Serenity, p.37)

-R’ Pliskin
“Speak to Yourself Serenely”
from “Today’s Daily Lift #98”
Aish.com

If you believe you are not a good person and that others don’t like you, chances are you’ll behave as if you’re not a good person and people really won’t like you. I’m not advocating that you become an egomaniac and think you’re the best thing God created since sliced bread, but God did create you (and me) for a reason, and He must have had a good reason for doing so.

I’ve heard it said (I can’t find the source right now) that each Jew should consider the world as having been created just for him or her. I know that sounds pretty bold, but expanding the idea to all human beings, we learn that each individual is precious to God and so we each have a very specific purpose in His design. God just didn’t create a “human herd” and relate to us only as “the masses,” God relates to us as individuals, just as He did with Adam when he tried to hide from God (or rather, from himself) in the Garden.

If each of us is that important to God, shouldn’t we treat ourselves with respect and speak to ourselves with serenity?

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:28-33 (NASB)

I know I’m stretching the interpretation of these verses a bit, but is it too much to consider ourselves as our own neighbor? If how we treat others flows out of how we speak to and treat ourselves, then shouldn’t we first treat ourselves with love and respect and allow that to direct how we speak to and treat others? After all, if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must first love ourselves.

But the first of these two greatest commandments is to love God. Why? Because He loves us in an unparalleled and unbounded manner. God’s capacity to love far exceeds any person’s capacity, so He loves each one of us far more than we could possibly love ourselves, each other, and much more than we are capable of loving Him.

Life isn’t easy. Even having the most positive attitude possible won’t prevent bad things from happening. It won’t always prevent you (or me) from sinning and letting that sin separate you (or me) from God and other people.

Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting.

Pirkei Avot 3:1

freeIf we keep God constantly before us and don’t attempt to hide from Him (which is impossible) and ourselves, then Akavia ben Mahalalel is right and we won’t (at least not as often) come into the hands of transgression and sin. And if we accustom ourselves to do more good deeds instead, then who we are will slowly change for the good and who we are with God and with others will change for the good as well.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

If we pursue God’s peace, then His peace will find us.

Waking Up New

The Talmudic Sages ask: “Who is the wise man?”

The answer: “One who sees (i.e., thinks about) the outcome of his actions.”

Keep asking yourself, “What is the goal of my present behavior?” and “What are the potential harmful consequences?” These two questions will enable you to have greater control over your behavior.

(Talmud – Tamid 32a; Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.258)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #222: “Outcome Thinking”
Aish.com

I would be wonderful if we all did this, especially when faced with a morally questionable decision or one that otherwise has the potential to hurt another person, but human nature seems to dictate that we consider the outcome of our actions only after we have acted.

The value of this principle is greatest when a person is in the process of making teshuvah and attempting to repair the damage his or her sins have already done. No, repentance doesn’t change the past, though we often wish it would, but considering the outcome of our actions can work to prevent us from repeating our mistakes.

In other words, we can’t “undo” previous sins, but we can consider the impact of present and future actions and keep ourselves from sinning again.

Our problem is how to live what we pray, how to make our lives a daily commentary on our prayer book, how to live in consonance with what we promise, how to keep faith with the vision we pronounce.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “The Goal and the Way,” p.94
Man’s Quest for God

However, a sort of strange paradox can occur. As I said, we can’t change the past but we can change the future, so to speak, by considering our actions in the present. But what about all the damage we’ve done up to this point? What about all of the hurt we’ve caused, all the disappointment that’s already a result of what we’ve done? How can we possibly lift that kind of weight off our backs in order to even begin to move toward the future?

The very first prayer of the day is Modeh Ani, which is recited immediately upon awakening. The prayer ends with the words, “great is Your faithfulness.” This praise underscores the fundamental importance of our trust in Hashem’s faithfulness in watching over us. Iyun Tefillah relates this phrase to the verse in Eichah (3:23): “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness…

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.63
Commentary for Sunday on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

Or, in other words…

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities

Psalm 51:2-9 (NASB)

In terms of cause and effect in the present world, what we’ve done in the past is done and cannot be undone. But once a person has repented sincerely of his or her sins, God does not simply put them in the past, but it is as if the person had never sinned at all. Each new morning you wake up a completely new person with no debts to be repaid as far as God is concerned. God is faithful to forgive and to treat us as if we had never sinned, as if we were pure, faultless, and blameless.

And on that basis, we can wake up and consider ourselves a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a brand new life waiting to be lived. Then, as we proceed throughout our day, at the point where we are making decisions, we can feel free to stop and consider the consequences of each action. Since we have a brand new life to live, using our experience with past failures as a guide, we can choose to avoid certain decisions in favor of others that will have a better outcome.

Going back to the Modei Ani, it’s not just that God is faithful in returning our souls each morning, and it’s not just that we put our faith in Him, but God has faith in us:

Chasam Sofer, commenting on this phrase, translates it to mean, “great is your faith in us.”

Though we are careless and abusive in the treatment of our souls, which Hashem has entrusted to us, He returns them to us again and again, confident that we will use them properly in His service.

-“A Daily Dose of Torah,” ibid

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100

No matter what sort of past we’ve led, we can still have a bright future with God in His service. Only God can untie us from the tyranny of guilt and shame and free us to serve Him in joy and boundless gratitude, for great is His faith in us.

Longing for Mercy in an Ordinary Life

When Moses got up that morning and counted the sheep, he did not say to himself, “I think I’ll take the sheep out on the west side of the wilderness over by the Mountain of God.” Mount Horeb was simply Mount Horeb, an indistinct rock in the wilderness like so many other hills and mountains, completely ordinary looking. There was nothing special about it. Mount Horeb became Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, simply because God chose it, not because it was taller, mightier or holier than any of the surrounding hills and mountains.

-from “Ordinary Life” the Torah Club commentary on Shemot
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This topic pops up periodically in Christian circles, usually in response to a question such as:

How could God use me for anything? I’m no one special. I’m just an ordinary person with an ordinary life.

Another part of the answer goes like this:

Most of us do not regard ourselves as extraordinary people. You probably think of yourself as a fairly ordinary person with a fairly mundane life. From God’s perspective, that is perfect. You are the perfect person with whom He can do extraordinary things. He is not looking for prophets; He is looking for normal people who are carrying on under normal circumstances.

Frankly, I’d be elated to live an ordinary and mundane life perfectly or even just reasonably within the bounds of God’s expectations. I don’t have to be Moses. I don’t want to be Moses. I am unworthy to be anything like Moses. I just want to be “me” but a better “me” than I am today.

Teshuvah within an “ordinary life” is a lot of hard work with no guarantee that life will get immediately better even upon turning away from sin. An “extraordinary” life seems exhausting by comparison.

Of course with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) but God is God and I’m just me.

When I became chief rabbi, I had to undergo a medical examination. The doctor put me on a treadmill, walking at a very brisk pace. “What are you testing?” I asked him. “How fast I can go, or how long?” “Neither,” he replied. “What I am testing is how long it takes, when you come off the treadmill, for your pulse to return to normal.” That is when I discovered that health is measured by the power of recovery. That is true for everyone, but doubly so for leaders and for the Jewish people, a nation of leaders (that, I believe, is what the phrase “a kingdom of priests” means).

-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
“Light in Dark Times”
Chabad.org

Man alonePart how I measure my physical health is how quickly my heart rate recovers after a cardio workout. However, that principle can be applied to a completely different context. How quickly a person recovers after a major failure in making teshuvah and restoring relationships with God and people is also a measure of health.

Of course, there could be a problem:

Question: What if the person to whom you want to apologize won’t speak to you?

Answer: Here is what Maimonides writes on the matter:

If his colleague does not desire to forgive him, he should bring a group of three of his friends and approach him with them and request [forgiveness]. If [the wronged party] is not appeased, he should repeat the process a second and third time. If he [still] does not want [to forgive him], he may let him alone and need not pursue [the matter further]. On the contrary, the person who refuses to grant forgiveness is the one considered as the sinner.

-Rabbi Menachem Posner
Comments from the article:
“Teshuvah — Repentance”
Chabad.org

While facing God with your sin and asking for forgiveness as part of true teshuvah is daunting, we have certain promises in the Bible that God will indeed forgive us of our sin, cleansing us and making us white as snow (Psalm 51:7). However, with the people we have hurt, they are quite likely, at least initially, to react with blame, anger, and rejection.

In Rabbi Posner’s comment above citing Maimonides, we should repeatedly approach the offended party and continue to ask for their forgiveness. However, there is a limit as to how many times we are expected to extend ourselves and, at least from the Rambam’s point of view, anyone who refuses to forgive a true Baal Teshuvah is considered a sinner themselves.

Not that this is much help if you’re trying to repair relationships.

Every prayer of the heart is answered. It’s the packaging that doesn’t always meet our taste.

Maamar Vayigash Elav 5725, 6—based on a statement of the Baal Shem Tov, Keter Shem Tov.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Bad Packaging”
Chabad.org

Yes, we can pray for a positive outcome, and as Rabbi Freeman says, God answers all prayers, but the “packaging,” that is, exactly how God answers the prayers, may not be what we desired or hoped for.

Hearken and hear Israel (Devarim 27:9), this is the time marked for the redemption by Mashiach. The sufferings befalling us are the birth-pangs of Mashiach. Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit I:1). Have no faith in the false prophets who assure you of glories and salvation after the War (Note that this was during the early 1940’s). Remember the word of G-d, “Cursed is the man who puts his trust in man, who places his reliance for help in mortals, and turns his heart from G-d” (Yirmiyahu 17:5). Return Israel unto the Eternal your G-d (Hoshei’a 14:2); prepare yourself and your family to go forth and receive Mashiach, whose coming is imminent.

-from “Today’s Day” for Wednesday, Tevet 15, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

praying aloneThis is heralding a very extraordinary time that will lead to the ultimate redemption of Israel and the nations, but in the meantime, there are still many mundane matters we all struggle with. I find it hard to always pray for the return of the Master when all I really want is to be successful in teshuvah, for God to grant me mercy and forgiveness, and for His Spirit to soften the hearts of those who have been hurt so they will be moved to mercy and forgiveness.

May God grant this to all of us, for who hasn’t failed?

He Who Fashions Our Hearts

Rambam cites the verse in Tehillim (33:15) as proof of this principle: “He who fashions all their hearts together, Who comprehends all their deeds.” According to Radak (Tehillim ibid.), this verse is explaining why Hashem has the power to see into men’s hearts; because He alone fashioned them, He alone has the ability to truly understand them.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.15
Monday’s Commentary for Parashas Shemos
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve always wondered just how much of human behavior God understands. After all, people can be afraid, but God is never afraid. People can be selfish, but God is never selfish. People can be weak, but God is never weak. How can God understand all of our faults and foibles when He has none of His own?

Of course, I always thought this was the answer:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16 (NASB)

That covers Yeshua (Jesus) understanding what it’s like to be tempted. The Master may not have sinned, but he did know what it was to be weak, put upon, exhausted, in need of help and comfort:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Matthew 4:1-2, 10-11

The Master even said this:

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.

Luke 22:41-43

These are very human words uttered by our Master in prayer to the Father. I wonder if he was afraid? I wouldn’t blame him if he were. Here too he needed help, and again, an angel come to comfort or “strengthen” him.

We always assume it was physically impossible for Jesus to sin but strictly speaking is that true? I mean, it’s not really a temptation unless there’s the possibility of giving in. It’s not a true victory unless you have overcome failure. I think the Master endured these things in part to show us that we can be tempted and overcome as well, even though we are broken down, faulty, lame, miserable human flesh.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

This was one of the first verses I was encouraged to learn when I professed my faith many years ago, and I thought Paul was being rather smug and arrogant. Sure, it’s easy for him to say that God will provide a way of escape so we can endure temptation and not sin, but it certainly didn’t (and often still doesn’t) seem obvious to me which way led out of temptation.

father and sonBut going back to the first quote above, it never occurred to me before that God understands us completely because God made us, even though He is perfect and we are imperfect, even though He is immortal and we are passing away like grass in a blast furnace. I wonder if that’s why there are so many human-like metaphors for describing God in the Bible, not because He has a face, or arms, or hands, or breath, but so that we can, on some shallow level, relate to Him, even as He completely and totally understands us.

A person is constantly beset by warring impulses. Sometimes, he will succeed and triumph over his evil impulses; other times he may fail and succumb to his baser urges. To the human observer, this behavior may seem random and inconsistent. But Hashem “fashions all their hearts together;” He alone knows of the many components that make up a person’s mind and heart. Thus, it is possible for Him to “comprehend all of their deeds.”

I don’t think this means that God approves of all of our deeds, but He does understand, and hopefully, feels compassion for all of His children, including you and me.

Moreover, we must not overlook one of the profound principles of Judaism. There is something which is far greater than my desire to pray, namely, God’s desire that I pray. There is something which is far greater than my will to believe, namely, God’s will that I believe. How insignificant is the outpouring of my soul in the midst of this great universe! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, unless God desires prayer (See Exodus Rabba, 21, 5; Midrash Tehillim, 5, 7.), how ludicrous is all my praying.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
“The Separation of Church and God,” p.58
Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism

On the following page, Heschel wrote, “To live without prayer is to live without God, to live without a soul.”

At the heart of doing teshuvah, of repenting and returning to God, is prayer. While the seven points of doing teshuvah I posted at the top of this blog post make it seem as if teshuvah is largely a matter of exercising intellect and will, in fact even our ability to make the first step, to regret and be ashamed of our sins, is because God created us with an awareness of Him; we are made in His likeness.

Prayer is a requirement of repentance, for without God how can man repent at all, how can he turn away from evil and turn toward God and make a life-altering, permanent decision to abandon the way he previously walked?

But in the agony of teshuvah, being torn away from one life and struggling to achieve another, it’s easy to drown in prayers of petition to the point of begging.

But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

Mark 9:22-24

From God we need all of the building blocks necessary to make teshuvah, then we need help putting them together, and then we need help doing everything else we are responsible for doing to return to Hashem.

In the middle of all that, where do we find the will and the strength to praise Him?

For to Thee Lord our God, God of our fathers, are due songs and praise, hymn and psalm, power and dominion, victory, grandeur, might, homage, beauty, holiness, kingship, blessings, thanksgiving

-from the daily liturgy
quoted in Heschel, p.64

prayerWe can’t “flatter” God into responding to our requests and He certainly doesn’t need us to praise Him because He lacks anything, but as Heschel said before, we pray not because our prayers are powerful or worthy, but because God desires that we pray, and I might add, for our own sakes. For we need God more than He needs us, if He needs anything at all. God is waiting only for us to whisper our tiny prayers to Him so He can call out and draw us to Him.

As much as the human soul yearns to rise up and merge within the light of its Creator, so much more so does the Infinite Creator yearn to be found within the human soul.

If so, what force could stand between them? What could hold back the Creator’s infinite light?

Only His desire that this union occur with our consent, that we be the ones to crack open the door.

“Open for me just as wide as a pinhole,” G‑d pleads with us, “and I will open for you a vast, unbounded portal to My very core of being.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Open for Me”
Chabad.org

I know I’ve quoted this before but it’s a good quote. A number of people commented on these words (click the link above to read the comments) including someone named Harley A:

And 12-Step groups call this “Willingness.”
Wow – I keep seeing how the 12-step recovery coincides with Judaism, it is beautiful.

Someone named Ezra commented:

When G-d created the world he did it with the attributes of Mercy and Justice (female and male qualities). And if you look in Genesis 1:27 you see again that G-d created us in His image (male and female).

G-d made everything with its opposite, up down , left right front back, day night. We can not have one without the other, that’s just how G-d made everything.

We need the Shechina simple because without her, our lives would not only be incomplete but also out of balance. We would only know G-d as a god of vengeance and never have that opportunity to repent. That would be frightening. When G-d remembered our frailty He even gave us cities of refuge. HE IS SO GOOD!!

Enjoy His Sabbath and rest a while with Her.

Life is difficult. We are all fighting a hard battle every single day. God does not desire that we fight this battle alone. If we cry out to Him, if we repent, if we pray for the strength to repent and the endurance to see it through, He will respond in an instant, whether we’re always aware of it or not, and rescue us, and even if we aren’t aware of that either, we will merit a place in the resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven where our sure reward is waiting:

“…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

Yes, Lord come. Maranatha.