Posted at 23:05h
Rosh HaShannah Reflections
For The Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington DC.
Rabbi Rain Zohav
Welcome to the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington DC’s Rosh Hashanah services. I am Rabbi Rain Zohav, the new Rabbi of this interesting and unusual congregation made up of families from both the Jewish and the Christian traditions. No matter what our background, we gather together today to celebrate the Jewish New Year and to continue the work of reflection and reconciliation that Jewish tradition asks of us in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
As I mentioned last night, we learn from the liturgy that Teshuvah,(repentance) Tefillah (prayer) and Tzedakah can transform our lives. Last night I spoke about Tzedakah. Today I am going to speak about Teshuvah. This word is often translated as “repentance”, but its literal meaning is “returning”. To expand on this definition, I would suggest that it means to return to our true selves, to our best selves, to our highest selves. This is not easy! That is why we are given ten days to do this work. And this work before Yom Kippur consists mainly of asking forgiveness from our fellow human beings and granting forgiveness to our fellow human beings. Also not easy! However; it is necessary. Our Biblical proof text for this is from the “holiness code” Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge…”.
Maimonides, medieval commentator and author of the Mishneh Torah (a concise summing up of Talmudic law) gives us two case studies of what exactly constitutes “vengeance” and “bearing a grudge”. In the first example, one person asks to borrow a shovel from the second. The second one refuses. The next day, the second person – the one who refused to lend a tool on day one has to ask for a similar favor, whereupon the first replies, “I will not lend it to you, just as you did not lend me your shovel when I asked it of you.” So we see that “vengeance’ does not have to be killing someone to be prohibited. Maimonides goes on to say, “He should rather give it to him cheerfully when he comes to ask for it and must not repay him for his mistreatment”. (p.21, Chapter 7:7).
In Maimonides’s examples of holding a grudge he posits that “Rueben says to Shimon ‘Rent this house to me, or ‘Lend me this ox’. But Shimon doesn’t want to. After some time Shimon comes to Reuben with a similar request. Reuben says to him, “Here it is: I am not like you; I will not treat you like you treated me”. This is exactly bearing a grudge according to Maimonides. And he further points out that as long as one is holding a grudge, one is also more likely to act vengefully. However, by forgiving the person both in our thoughts and in how we treat them we behave according to our highest selves. Still, this is not easy.