Rosh Hashana 5773 – September 16-18, 2012

“Our Time of Renewal and Acceptance”
By Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Ph.D, President, AJRCA


During this season the primary spiritual task that we are asked to engage in is a self examination that ultimately will lead to growth and reconciliation. It is obvious that any process that eventually leads to growth demands a seriousness of labor if it is to be successful. Hence, I ask each of us to begin this process of self-examination now, so that we will come to our High Holiday Services prepared for success, and the Services will be a culmination of this process rather than a laborious beginning.

One of the goals in this process that we all strive for is a reconciliation with ourselves, with others and with G-d, some sense of achieved forgiveness. What do we mean by ‘to forgive and to be forgiven’ and how do we achieve it? Forgiveness means reconciliation in spite of estrangement; it means reunion in spite of hostility. This genuine forgiveness, this reunion and participation once more with another, makes love for the other possible. We cannot love where we feel rejected, even if the rejection is done out of ‘righteousness.’ We are hostile towards that which we feel judged by, even if this judgment is not expressed in words. Moreover, this hostility and anxiety about being rejected by those who are nearest to us can hide itself under the various forms of love and friendship, sensual love, conjugal and family love.

The same holds true in our relationship to G-d. As long as we feel rejected by G-d, we cannot love G-d. We sometimes put upon G-d that G-d is an oppressive power, judging us according to our behavior and adherence to the commandments, and therefore One who condemns us because of our failings. Our own self hatred is projected upon G-d and therefore we feel unloved by G-d. But if we have received and accepted the message that G-d is reconciled (the clear message of the season, G-d giving us a Yom Kippur to forgive us and draw us back to Him feeling loved), everything changes. G-d’s healing power (Kel Na Refa Na La) enters into us, and we can affirm G-d, and our own being, and the others from whom we were estranged also become acceptable again. At this moment we realize that G-d’s love becomes and is part of our own being. To love this love is to experience G-d, and to accept life and love it. Being forgiven, and being able to accept oneself are one and the same thing.

Yes, this is not an easy task, and many people who complain and despair about its impossibility are simply idealists, seekers of perfection who through disappointment and lack of resolution become embittered that their will and expectations are not being met in this world. A little frustration and dashed hopes can be a painful shattering experience. However, we must always remember that this is a world of frustration and limitation (“We are free in fantasy but limited in reality.” Rabbi Israel Salanter), and still proceed with courage to build a better world in spite of obstacles.

We must look at life as an evolving process that we do have some control over, if we persist in encountering the everyday reality that confronts us in a heroic way. It is in the single encounter with the everyday that we gain our dignity and attain the heroic. Not getting caught up in the overwhelming ‘big picture.’ but doing everything that we do in the best way we can is what builds a better world and inspires others.

I pray that each of us finds the strength to seek and find forgiveness, and hence to give out the love that those around us are sustained by, and the energy necessary to build a better world. May you all have a very sweet year.

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