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Sunday, April 20, 2014
Rosh Hashanah: Asking more of ourselves
Rabbi Sholom Stern, Temple Beth El
Rabbi Sholom Stern, Temple Beth El

The Talmud in its attempt to describe a genuinely religious person records: “Who is a pious person; he who is tough on himself and lenient on others.” It’s usually the other way around. For ourselves we are able to find a million excuses for unacceptable behavior. We say, “He provoked me and therefore I lashed out at him.” “I didn’t get a good night’s rest and I was on edge and therefore exploded.” “I have difficulty in accepting mediocrity and therefore I insulted him.” We never see ourselves as mean spirited when we cause irrevocable damage to others. Since we all certainly have the capacity to forgive ourselves when we fail to control our anger, may we be blessed with the same ability to forgive others for their moral lapses.

Rosh Hashanah is known in our tradition as Yom Hadin, as the day of judgment. How does God judge us? The Talmud states, ‘Midah Kneged Midah’, measure for measure. If you choose to be exacting in your demands of others and choose to be critical of others when they fail to meet what you consider to be an acceptable standard God will judge you exactly the same way. If you give others the benefit of the doubt, then God will give you the benefit of the doubt.

Rabbinic imagination sees God on his throne of judgment. But then when he witnesses us engaged in prayer and seeking to narrow the distance between what we ought to be and what we are, he then descends from his throne of judgment and sits on the throne of mercy. Although we stand in judgment before God on the holidays, we judge others virtually every day of the year. May we be blessed with the wisdom and intelligence to temper our desire for justice with God’s loving attribute of mercy.

This is a special time of the year for us who should cherish the indisputable value of a periodic occasion of self-analysis and self-examination to realize our potential in becoming less judgmental on others and more demanding on ourselves.

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