Forgiveness – Thoughts for Elul 5777

Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, can be a time of introspection and reflection. Rather than appealing beyond our world for forgiveness, we can turn to each other to both ask and offer a new chance, and we can also turn inward.

All people try and fail. The wise learn to forgive and try again.

Integrity means that we say what we believe, and that we believe what we say. Our integrity affirms that we are the same person, in Hebrew and in English, synagogue and public square, special moments and any moment, holiday and every day. If our ancestors believed differently, we cherish their integrity as we do ours. When we agree, we find the strength of honest roots. We honor them by celebrating our Judaism as deeply believed as they did.

We are what we say and what we do. Our intentions and emotions may be kind and generous. But if what we say and what we do are hurtful and hateful, no one will ever know our better nature. Indeed, our hands and our mouths speak the truth better than we realize. What we truly value, what we truly believe, we express in how we live.

Far easier to want to do good than to do it, to consider asking forgiveness than to ask. Far stronger to face our true selves, to acknowledge our failures, and to demand more. Integrity is not public perception. Integrity is integrating who we think we are with whom we really are, transforming our ideal self into our actual self, making who we want to be the person we are becoming.

We can be too slow to forgive others. We are long to remember injuries and short to forget assistance. Anger and memory have their place, and forgiveness does not require forgetting. We forgive by choosing not to avenge, by being open to second chances. Forgiving others brings us peace.

We can be too quick to forgive ourselves. We celebrate our successes and quickly explain away our failures. Dwelling on our shortfalls is not healthy, but neither is whitewashing them. Self-forgiveness requires honesty about the sides of ourselves we would rather not face. Forgiving ourselves bring us peace.

As we prepare for a New Year, let us pause for a moment of true forgiveness. Let us forgive others, and let us forgive ourselves.

About Rabbi Adam Chalom

Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in north suburban Chicago. He is also the Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.
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