Divre Harav – November/2018

Rabbi Eliezer says, “Let your respect for your fellow be as precious to you as that for yourself. Don’t be easy to anger. Repent one day before you die.”

 Pirke Avot 2:15a

Rabbi Eliezer opens with the fundamental truth that unless you have respect for yourself, unless you believe that you have inherent worth and value, you will never be able to fully respect other people. Those with a poor self image, project their self-hatred onto others. Those who believe that they themselves are not worthy of respect, internalize the assumption that others carry the same internal flaws and are equally deserving of contempt.

Is it correct to say that no human being is flawless. This is one of the wise lessons implicit in the Hebrew Bible, suggested by the fact that it contains no perfect characters. Everyone, including God, has flaws. Everyone, at times, struggles with anger, regret, judgementalism, dishonesty, defensiveness, greed, forgetfulness, laziness, ungratefulness, timidity, and a host of other negative character traits. But when we consider and evaluate ourselves, we need to remember that we are also generous, benevolent, capable, empathetic, caring, loyal, hardworking, and strong. With focused attention, our positive traits can outweigh our negative traits, and can remind us that this is true of others as well.

For many, the strongest negative emotion is anger. Self-righteous anger makes us feel alive and important. It gets us noticed. It appeals to the primitive limbic center of the brain rather than the higher thinking upper cortex. We don’t make our best decisions when we are angry. That’s when we send email and texts that we later regret. That’s when we say things that later we wish we could take back. Rabbi Eliezer’s second piece of advice, to calm our instinctive anger response within our animal selves, is to encourage us to be fully human, rational, compassionate, thinking, beings.

Finally, Rabbi Eliezer understands that each of us will feel remorse over things that we have said and done today. Don’t save them up for next Rosh Hashanah. You might not make it, you might forget before then, or the person you have wronged may not be around any more. As a spiritual exercise, he suggests taking time each day to review what we have done, and do teshuvah immediately. Sound advice!

 

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • kavod – respect
  • Haviv – cherished, beloved
  • Teshuvah – repentance
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2 thoughts on “Divre Harav – November/2018

  1. Good thoughts about conduct and self examination, as a tool to avoid “jumping into conclusions” given our human nature of flaws and dependence in our emotional state of the moment.

    However I was surprised to see in your thoughtful text “Everyone, including God, has flaws”, in particular when paraphrasing Rabbi Eliezer who, if I am not mistaken, was Rabbi Akivah’s teacher, he himself, the master of “the golden rule” and “everything else is commentary.”

    Even though I have an unlimited number of unanswered questions about who or what is
    G-d, I have been following a sort of principle of faith, where I assume that G-d is what I understand the Torah tells us: G-d is perfect and ever-powerful and can not be compared to any of His creation, at least taken individually. My guess is that I will search for the confirmation of all these metaphysical knowledge my entire life. I have read, however, that some of our sages were able to ascend to the divine realm in their lifetime. All I can say is that I am not one of them.

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    • I’ll give you my short answer: Take a look at the Noah story, in which God regrets having created humanity. Regret? That’s an emotion of a flawed being who made a mistake! Yet that’s how the Tanakh portrays God. So on one hand, I recognize that God is by definition perfect; but on the other hand, I acknowledge that our texts have room for a theology of a flawed Divine Presence.

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