We find ourselves at a most pivotal point in the calendar. Rosh Hashana is swiftly approaching. It is that time of year when we review our behavior and ask God for forgiveness. But our Sages teach us that there is a strategy that we can employ that gives us an edge in getting the pardon we so desire. That is our ability to forgive others. When we demonstrate our willingness and capacity to absolve others of the misdeeds they afflict on us, we, in a sense, "model" the conduct that we hope God will bestow upon us.
Nobody's perfect. We need to remember that, especially when the small stuff seems to matter to us more than it should. In fact, that's a great place to begin practicing the forgiveness thing.
A few examples:
Does it bother you when you are late for something or someone, and you are seeking that rare, all too valuable parking space, and then you notice that someone has parked his vehicle with incredible mathematical precision and he is occupying two parking spaces?
You are not alone. It is frustrating. But instead of working yourself up, try calming yourself down. The perpetrator meant no harm. He was probably oblivious to the situation. There may even have been a reason why he had no choice in the matter, at the time.
Either way, try to be forgiving.
The other day I had a $100 bill in my pocket and decided it would be a good time to fill up my gas tank. I pulled into to my local station and waited for some other equally wealthy driver to complete his transaction so I could begin. Then I noticed that he was not in his car. And the gas pump had already stopped. I could feel my annoyance creeping in.
"He wants a soda and I have to wait?? I'm BUSY!"
Seconds later, a kindly older gentleman came stumbling out of the nearby shop.
He didn't have to finish. My annoyance morphed into empathy.
"I'm so sorry," he begged. "I had to get a coffee. I was falling asleep at the wheel and…"
He didn't have to finish. My annoyance morphed into empathy. I held his coffee while he opened his car door.
"Stay awake," I cautioned.
I'm standing in the bank, minding my own business. Behind me, on line, is a woman who apparently wants me to also mind HER business. You guessed it. She is on the phone. Frankly, I find it rude. Maybe you do too.
Do I need to know how much money you could have made had you not sold that stock? Must I listen when you chide your daughter for wearing too much make-up? And I am not particularly interested in how much you paid for schmaltz herring around the corner.
So here I am in the bank, thinking of polite (or not so polite) ways to convey this obvious lesson in etiquette to this woman. But, fortunately, before I began my brilliant pedagogy, I chanced upon the actual conversation she was having. Too many details I couldn't get from hearing only one side of the exchange. But it sounded like she was on the phone with her travel agent making arrangements to attend her aunt's funeral the next morning. The flight options must have been few and costly, and time was also a factor. Then I noticed she was sobbing.
I cancelled my highly impressive speech.
Even those who rarely enter the hallowed halls of the synagogue all year find themselves in a shul for the High Holidays. Prayer is a sacred – and somewhat paradoxical -- opportunity. We are speaking to God in a deeply personal way, but it's also a communal endeavor.
Each one of us prays in his or her own very unique style. Some sway, others stand erect, while others sit. Some of us close our eyes, others read every word from the prayer book carefully with fingers on the place, while others contemplate more than articulate.
Like most, I concentrate best when I keep my voice low -- inaudible to my neighbor. But there are those who prefer to hear their own prayers. They pray loudly. No doubt it stirs them to greater focus and connectivity.
Frankly, it drives me nuts. Often I imagine the sermon I would give them about sensitivity to others, distracting my concentration etc. But today I tried something new. I moved to another seat.
Technically, I suppose I didn't have to. Maybe my neighbor really should be more cognizant of his surroundings. But just staying put and feeling irritated was clearly getting me nowhere. And that sermon I wanted to deliver probably would have gotten me nowhere too. Habits are hard to kick. So I think I made the right move – literally.
It's 8:10 A.M. and you're rushing off to work. With just five minutes to spare, you reach into the pantry and snatch a box of cereal. A bowl and spoon are easy to find, but where is the milk?
You check every shelf in the fridge, make your way around yesterday's leftover quiche, a stray bottle of Heinz, and something that used to resemble grapes, but no milk!
You turn to the breakfast table and there she stands -- open, lonely, and warm. There are few things in life worse than warm milk. Some loving, forgetful ___ (fill in spouse, child, roommate, building inspector) was also in a rush about 40 minutes ago, and neglected to return the milk to its proper abode.
Dejected, you grab your briefcase, your lunch, and a granola bar and trudge out the door for a long and hungry trip to the office. Boy, those Fruity Pebbles would have been sweet.
And in your rush out the door, you forget to put the milk away.
You see, people make mistakes. They forget. They get distracted. They slip. You know what? So do you. Yes, the milk should be put away.
But next time, instead of righteous indignation try tender appreciation. Those around you will be better off, and you'll be better off.
Imperfection is a common human malady. God understands that.
A New Year is upon us. It's a good time to show Him that we are trying to understand that too.