Friday, September 9, 2011

Should we forgive?

The days of Elul are days of Teshuba. We ask forgiveness from God, for any ritual transgressions we might have done. And we should seek our peer's forgiveness for any offenses we might have caused them.

We also need to be willing to forgive.

In Chapter 2, Halakha 10, Maimonides talks about the appropriate attitude of the victim of an offense. He says: "It is forbidden for a person to be insensitive (akhzari) and refuse to be appeased... rather, when someone approaches him seeking his forgiveness, he should forgive him wholeheartedly and with a positive spirit".

Forgiving is one of the most difficult emotional acts we might be performing in our lives, but at the time we ask forgiveness from God, we should be willing to forgive others as well.

Seeking revenge or even bearing a grudge is actually a Biblical prohibition. According to Maimonides, these altruistic values have had such an impact in the Jewish nation that it became already a 'second nature', or part of the Jews present genetic makeup. "[forgiving is part of] the nature (darkan) of the descendants of israel and the inclination of their hearth"

I must clarify, however, that we are referring here to social and personal forgiveness: when a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, etc.did something wrong to me.

Political forgiveness is a more complicated matter (I urge the reader to read this): we have no right to forgive the perpetrators and accomplices of the Shoa or those who had any involvement in brutal terrorists acts in Israel or in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Actually in this week's Persaha the Torah states clearly that some instances, like the irrational hatred of Amaleq, should never be forgiven or even forgotten, but constantly remembered, lest it repeats itself.


Candle Lighting in NYC: 6.57 PM

Shabbat Ends in NYC: 8.03 PM

Rabbi Yosef Bitton.

130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024.


Click here to see a wonderful presentation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on this Perasha, about forgiveness and remembrance.

To watch and to remember: SEPTEMBER 11, memorial

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The original sin and blame displacement

In Maimonides opinion Teshuba consists of three steps:
1. hakarat hachet or, admission of our personal responsibility .
2. viduy, or confession with sincere remorse for the wrong we have done
3. azibat hachet or the resolve to abandon a bad habit.

Personally, I believe that hakarat hachet is the most difficult challenge in Teshuba. Because naturally, we tend to justify and rationalize whatever wrong we have done. Or play the oldest human game: "blame displacement".

Everyone knows that God punished Adam and Eve expelling them from Paradise. But why did He expel them? What did they do wrong? Eating from the forbidden tree?

Try this. Put on a table all kind of candies, sweets, and cakes in front of a six years old child. In the middle of the table place a simple cherry-tomato. Now, tell the child: 'You can eat whatever you want except for the tomato'. It will be only a matter of time until the child disobeys, leaves everything else and eats the tomato. The 'forbidden fruit' syndrome triggers an irresistible curiosity and desire. According to Rabbi Yosef Albo, Adam and Eve's sin was not eating from the fruit. God, he said, knew they will succumb! God wanted to train them to take charge, confess and repent for one's wrong actions. He was teaching them to do Teshuba!

Adam's real error happened when God approached him and asked him: 'What did you do?' and instead of admitting his responsibility and asking for God's forgiveness, Adam 'transferred' the blame to Eve. He said: 'the woman that You (You=God. Adam was blaming God!) placed next to me, she offered me the fruit'. Then, God approached Eve, and she said: 'It wasn't me! The serpent made me do it'.

'Blame displacement,' blaming others for our misdeeds, is probably the main obstacle for repentance, or at least the oldest one.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton.

130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024.


Click here to see what the three most important words in a relationship are.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Teshuba and the end of life

Maimonides enumerates four different categories of transgressions for which Teshuba represents an atonement. The first category is repenting for Mitzvot 'Ase, or positive commandments (1:4).

Lately, I thought a lot about this apparently simple idea. "Transgressing a positive commandment" means: failing to do something good!. Normally, when we think of Teshuba we recall our mistakes, flaws, misdeeds, etc. But according to Maimonides' statement: we need to regret (and act upon!) not only for what we have done wrong but also or primarily for what we have not done!

It reminds me of one of the deepest experiences I've been exposed to as a rabbi. When I visited in the Hospital patients who knew they will die soon, I found out that they are not focused that much on the mistakes they have made. Rather, those patients, at these sacred last moments, are regretful for the good things they should have done and they didn't do. For the many opportunities they've missed to help others, to learn more Torah, to give more Tsedaqa, etc. In other words, people regret they have missed their full potential to do good. They feel they have had the capacity to do more than what they did. The greater the person was, or the highest position that person had, the bigger the feeling of having missed so many opportunities to make a positive change in himself and in others.

In a sense, if we take seriously the Jewish concept of Rosh haShana: the rabbis' idea that every new year we are judged weather to be granted or not an additional year of life, the days before rosh haShana are well suited to reflect, not just in our flaws, but (mainly?) in our potential to learn, to grow, to give, to help, to make a real change.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton.

130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024.


Click here to watch "World's Greatest Love Story" Nancy and Howard Kleinberg's love story is nothing short of a miracle, by Regis and Kelly. From

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Viduy (confession) and Alcoholism

Anyone familiar with the process of Teshuba (repentance) delineated by Maimonides, would not be surprised to learn how the A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) or other agencies who help people with all type of addictions have developed a program which includes: "admission of one's problem" as one of the first steps in the way of recovery.

In the process of Teshuba, as we have explained, the ultimate (not necessarily the 'last') step that leads into repentance is also the Viduy: confession, admission of one's problem. Admission implies to stop the denial, and acknowledge to ourselves that we have a problem, an addiction, a flaw.

The first difficulty an alcoholic needs to overcome, if he wants to get cured is to do away with all his excuses. Anyone which is criticized of having an alcohol problem will probably begin by defending himself saying: "I'm NOT an alcoholic. I just like to have a few drinks a day, like everyone else. I'm in control. I can stop whenever I want".

That is why when one attends A.A. meetings, the first step toward a cure is for the person to say loud and clear: "My name is Joe, and I'm an alcoholic."

Notice that, same as required on the Viduy, the addict must articulate and verbalize his problem, not just think about it. This articulation is an indispensable prerequisite to overcome his conscious and subconscious denial.

Click here to watch "Why a Unilateral Declaration of Palestinian Statehood is a Bad Idea" (watch till the end!)