D’var Torah: We are challenged to forgive ourselves

Rabbi Josef A. Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona.

By Rabbi Josef Davidson

We have fasted; we have prayed; we have mourned the destruction of the Temple, the exile of our people and the calamities that followed as a result of our powerlessness.  Tisha B’av was an opportunity to begin the process of collective self-examination that will lead us into the High Holy Days in less than eight weeks.

Over the next weeks, we will begin to take an accounting of all of the ways in which we, as a people and as individuals, have missed the mark as we anticipate the Days of Awe.  During this time, we are obligated to go to those individuals whom we have harmed through our actions or words and to seek their forgiveness, not because we deserve it but because we hope that they will be gracious in accepting our apologies.

Our Torah portion for this week, Ve’etchanan, begins with Moses’ plea to God for the gracious acceptance of his apology for whatever sins he committed that have resulted in his upcoming death prior to the people’s entrance into the Promised Land.  

While most English translations simply say, “I pleaded to God … , “ the word Ve’etchanan actually comes from the root that means “grace.”  Grace – the notion that we might receive something, not because we deserve it, but despite the fact that we do not – is not something about which we Jews speak much.  More often than not, we are an action-oriented people whose theology is one in which actions have consequences.  Yet, this week’s Torah portion begins with a plea for grace despite what Moses may have done.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

The verb Ve’etchanan is one that is reflexive as well.  Not only is Moses seeking God’s grace, but it could be translated in such a manner to indicate that Moses is seeking his own grace.  When most people are asked whom it is that they find the least accepting of their remorse, apologies and intentions to correct behaviors, most often the answer is not other people, nor is it God.  

Rather, those whom most people find the most unforgiving and the least gracious are  themselves.  Most people continue to beat themselves up about things that everyone else has forgiven, even forgotten.  While God and others may have graciously accepted their apologies and them, they have not reached that level for themselves.

As we begin this period of anticipation, self-examination and reconciliation that leads to the High Holy Days, may we learn to be as gracious to ourselves as we are to others.  May we seek not only God’s grace but our own and, in the process, be able to move from mourning to rejoicing.

Rabbi Josef Davidson is Adjunct Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.