Keep My Tongue From Doing Harm, Teach Me To Forgive
-- Adena Potok
We are on the cusp of the High Holy Days, known traditionally as The Days of Awe, or – more correctly – the Awesome Days. No wonder – these are the days when we review the year just ended and prepare for the one about to begin. Rosh haShana
and Yom Kippur are joined together in this elongated moment of self-examination and reaching out to others in an attempt to make peace within a community, so that the year a head can truly be a year of life renewed.
That sounds pretty heavy. How do we approach the themes of repentance and forgiveness and life? What, in contemporary vernacular, is the game plan? We review the past year – maybe even go back further – recognize the unkindness, intended or unintended, that we were guilty of dishing out to others whether or not the acts were in response to others’ behavior (that includes of course speech) and communicate to the recipient of our unkindness a truly felt regret. Lastly, we sincerely ask for their forgiveness. The same holds true when this exercise is aimed at us. The entire process described above comprises what the Tradition names S’liha.
So important is this process and so not simple, the Tradition has organized our time in the month before Rosh haShana as a month of preparation for the Awesome Days of Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur. Beginning with the first day of Elul, every morning we add verses of S’liha, of Pardon, to the quiet service. Actually, we ask for pardon and pray that those to whom we are making amends will respond to us accordingly. To mark the season and the behavior associated with it, the end of the service resounds with one series of shofar
blowing: T’kiah, sh’varim-teruah, t’kiah. Harken, awake and listen. This is the season of Repentance. Everybody is reminded. Everyone is invited into the process. The month ahead beckons to each of us to express sincere regret to those we have affronted, hurt, and to ask for forgiveness. It reminds us that when thus approached, it is our duty to respond forgivingly. Tradition frowns upon holding a grudge. So does good mental health practice. "Let it go and walk freed, unbound by old wounds. Let them scab over and heal." Pardon for acts that have hurt others cannot be given until the wrong, the hurt, is addressed and the wronged individual has agreed to enter the process with whoever has committed the wrong in the first place. Only then can we - each and both – enter the New Year renewed.
Looked at from another angle, just as it is impossible for just one hand to clap alone, so is it impossible for peace to reign if our wounds are more important to us than our mutual healing, and we withhold our hand from the one who asks for it…
As a prelude to the beginning of the Silent Devotion we ask:
"May God keep my tongue safe from badness and my lips from speaking guile." It is hard to do alone. It is impossible to do if we do not try.
We ask for peace in the New Year in the worlds we inhabit. So, let us take the steps necessary to do that. Let us do a heshbon hanefesh --- a soul accounting
--- and then create a bridge of peaceful accounting towards those we have hurt as well as come together on that bridge with those who ask us to walk the walk with them. Let us make this a better world. The Tradition has created the paths. It is up to us to walk them. May we unlock our tongues in T’shuva --- repentance (where we will try not to repeat past mistakes) --- and then in T’filla
--- solitary prayer --- and then perform acts of Tz’dakka – goodness within the community whose character depends on us all, each and every one.
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