Thursday, 17 September 2009

Time, Healing, Sincerity and Relationships


Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), father of the Mussar movement (involved with the improvement of one's character traits,) had this to say:

"In three matters the world holds on to the secondary and sets aside the most important things.

1. When they recite the "Pesukei Dezimra" prayers – those prayers composed mainly of Psalms, preceding the blessings over the Shema, the Shema and the main Amidah – they do so with Kavana – intention and enthusiasm! But when they get to the main Shemoneh Esrei prayer – the prayer consisting of 18 (19) blessings recited silently in complete attachment to G-d, they say it in a hurry, with frigidity and without Kavana.

2. During the days of Selichot (those days preceding Rosh HaShanah when we arise early to recite additional prayers requesting forgiveness from G-d) and during the Ten Days of Repentance, they say Selichot and they fast, but they forget to repent and do Teshuva (i.e. regret for their bad ways, resolve to improve in the future, returning stolen items, fulfilling promises and paying back debts).

3. Before Pesach, they clean their homes (and scrape their walls dry) from every crumb of Chamtez. But the real Chametz that can be clearly seen – in the shops etc. they sell with an open heart and in clear view of the eye."

Have we forgotten life's most important real values and fallen back on external stringencies in the hope of fooling others (and ourselves)?!

When it comes time to prayer, do we really put our all into the first few words, only to begin yawning, falling asleep, talking or other such things – when it comes to the moment of "isolation" in prayer with G-d? Was Rabbi Yisrael referring to us?!

What of those special days that precede the awesome day(s) of Rosh HaShanah, the day on which the entire world is judged? Do we concern ourselves with waking early to recite additional prayers (which we often simply rattle off in a few minutes tops!) – but neglect to realise why, in fact, we are reciting them?!

Today, with email (nothing less than with the advantage of CC and BCC) – we can send out just one email to every person we've ever just said hello to, asking them for forgiveness. Then we can head for Facebook and ask another 5000 of our very best "friends" for forgiveness, and thereafter log in to Twitter and once again with the most sensitive attitude, ask all 20 000 of our followers to forgive us for hurting them during the year?!

But what of the people we have really hurt? Are we able to truly restore broken relationships? Do we regard our quickie "I hope you'll forgive me for the things done this past year," as sufficient to heal relationships that have been destroyed over many years?! It may take far longer in healing a relationship that has been destroyed over the years than a simple "Please forgive me." Though words can be powerful, they are also very often cheap. Said in the right way, years of hurt can be healed. Said incorrectly, and the relationship can possibly sink even lower. But then again… maybe it's really the Selichot that really count?! Maybe it's the fasting?! Maybe it's the quickie that we all get sucked into as we run around asking all and sundry to forgive us. Maybe… maybe not.

Do you know someone whose every stringency to remove Chometz on Pesach is contrasted against the same person passing by another dressed in rags just hoping to get through the day with whatever food he can – without so much as acknowledging him, let alone offering to provide for him – in whatever he needs (isn't he a human being too?!) Though of course, the "best" of us will tell our great stories regarding just how much we've helped those in need this year, whether it's been in donating a $200 000 garden to a "deserving cause" or whether it's just by opening up our Pesach home to those who wish to inspect it to reveal everything in perfect Pesach condition – while neglecting to mention the *real* Chometz lurking about in full view of every one else's eyes?!

Who are we really fooling? Life is a serious commitment. Those reading this post know that they are a part of it. It takes time to heal. Time to grow. It takes time to learn to see things in the right perspective. It takes time to be able to honestly and objectively stand back to see what's really important, and what is in fact secondary. While miracles do happen – while forgiveness can be speedy – while growth can suddenly spurt, surely we should be more concerned with understanding that our stay in this world for some 70-120 years is about constant growth, constant forgiveness, constant healing in relationships?

The head of the year gives us a chance to reflect on ourselves – in honesty. It gives us the chance to realise that our Torah is not a novel consisting of 300 pages, which we read swiftly, only to put it away in a garage to gather dust somewhere – after all, we've read it already.

Torah is infinite – because the soul is infinite. Every interaction we have, with ourselves, with another and with G-d, is infinite in its ramifications. If we're looking to understand what it means to grow, to improve and develop ourselves, it's going to mean a serious commitment to the Torah and her values – for a lifetime! It's going to mean constant learning, time spent every single day devoted to understanding just how far there is to go. To understand that relationships can sometimes break down. They can also heal. We can sometimes break down, but we can also heal. And sometimes we may even believe that G-d has broken down… but this too can heal.

Of course, we can take the swift approach too. We can start our prayers with the explosion of a bomb, only to simmer down (instantly!) into a pile of ashes. We can fast and say additional "prayers" to ask for forgiveness from G-d as our speedy way of "destroy everything throughout the year, and then spend a few minutes in repairing everything perfectly." And we can even make certain that with our every effort, we clean our Pesach homes from every vestige of Chometz so that all others will see just how pious we are…. (when of course neglecting the real Chometz clearly visible to the naked eye of any objective person…)

Or we can spend some twenty minutes to an hour in solitude. And as we do so, we can reconsider just exactly where we are in life. How far we've come, and how far we still must go. How much there really is to do – and to realise just how much time and patience it will require. Twenty minutes of solitude – or perhaps an hour… not once of course, but every day. Suddenly we will realise that what counts is the "main prayer" when it comes to G-d, the essence of real forgiveness – when it comes to man, and the essence of being true to oneself as to others, when it comes to oneself.

The choice is ours. G-d has three books open in front of him. But perhaps He lets each of us choose where to write the rest of our stories – the rest of our lives. There is a short road which is long, and there is a long road that is short. And then, there is a middle road – a road open to most of us during the ten days, to give us the opportunity of deciding on which road in life we really wish to be traveling on.

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