Thought for Shabbat – September 14, 2018
This is a time of year when we think about sin. We reflect on sin. We recognize sin. We repent for sin. But what is sin? Basically, a sin is an act that violates one of God’s directions or values. There are three types of sin. There is the chet, the ahvon and the pehsha, but Dr. Amy Kalmanofsky, dean of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies, likes to use the metaphors in the Torah that define sin as a weight, debt, or stain in describing the process of sin.
Therefore, according to Rabbi Stephen Weiss we say S’lach lanu we say to lift the weight – lift up our burden, forgive us, accept us back fully and allow us to feel pure. If we cannot feel pure after what we have done, then m’chal lanu for our debt– absolve us of any punishment for our wrongdoing. And if we do not deserve to be freed of the consequence of our action then at least kaper lanu – atone for us, remove our stain and accept our restitution so that we can make a new beginning.
With these definitions, word formulations and metaphors, it all boils down to one thing — our ability to recognize our wrongdoings and commit to making up for them. But how far are we willing to go? Imagine that weight sitting on your chest. What words are you willing to say to feel the weight removed? Will you make a full recognition of your wrong and appropriate apology and change, or will you parse your language and try to limit your exposure? As an example, will you use words like “I’m sorry if my remarks offended you?” implying that the person you hurt was too sensitive instead of simply admit you said something hurtful or stupid? Of course while you are thinking about this the weight remains there, perhaps even getting heavier by the intensity of your own guilt, waiting for you to do the right thing.
It is through handling this quandary correctly that we not only make our souls right but also help those we have hurt. We have freed them at least partially from their pain. Further, our combined acts of teshuvah, or repentance, help to set the world right even if just for a moment.
Perhaps this experience of teshuvah will motivate us to move a little quicker in the future to remove the weight. As the weight comes off, we recognize teshuvah is not a once a year event but a regular practice. Sometimes an act of teshuvah takes more than just one attempt. Recognizing that will not only improve our relationship with God but with all those we wrong.
I wish each of you a gmar chatima tova, may you be sealed well in the Book of Life, and may all your fasts be easy.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
Please make it a point to join us for our weekend services tonight at 7:15, tomorrow at 9:45 am and Sunday morning at 9:00 am. Also, Backpacks for Hunger continues. We have our first packing date of the school year on Monday, September 17, 11:30 to 12:30 at the Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church. If you have an hour to spare, you will be most welcome to join this wonderful opportunity to help our students. Two days before Yom Kippur is a great time to engage in a positive mitzvah.