Sermon: FORGIVENESS Parshat Ki Tesa Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum February 21, 2003
Yesterday, I officiated a funeral service for one of our beloved members. After I finished the service and while we were walking to the hearse to go to the cemetery, one of the grandsons of the deceased came to me. The grandson, named Jason, asked, "Can I talk with you for one moment?"
I stopped, and I replied, "Sure."
He started, "Your eulogy was very moving and I want you to know that my ‘Pappa’ had one request that he wanted fulfilled upon his death. He said to me, ‘Just one thing I want you to promise me, Jason. Ask the Rabbi who officiates my funeral to say to everybody before they complete the burial that I forgive everyone who ever hurt my feelings or wronged me at any stage of my life. I forgive with a full heart, everyone who did anything against my reputation, my character, and me -- everyone. By the same token I want and hope everyone to forgive me, and I hope the Almighty to forgive me as well.’"
Jason, the grandson, looked at me and asked me, "Rabbi, can you do that?"
I was moved by this request and told him that when we got to the cemetery I would fulfill his grandfather’s request.
As you know, yesterday was a very rainy day. When we got to the cemetery down in Washington, the pallbearers carried the casket, arrived at the gravesite and started lowering the casket. A few family members followed the tradition and started to pick up the dirt to cover the casket, while I was saying, "On behalf of our loved one, I would like to give a clear proclamation: his request was that this statement would be read at this moment: "I want all to know that I forgive everyone who hurt my feelings or wronged me at any stage of my life. Anything against me, my reputation, and my character, with a full heart-- I forgive everyone. By the same token I want and hope everyone to forgive me, and I hope the Almighty to forgive me as well."
While I was saying this, a group of different birds came, and they were all flying at our level, very low. These various species of birds were circling around the grave, making very unique noises, like a choir chanting in an ethereal fashion. The man we were honoring and mourning had been an old-fashioned doctor who was always willing to help anyone in need. As the birds were circling it seemed like it was a response from heaven. Everyone stopped to look.
When we completed the covering of the casket with dirt and I finished the forgiveness proclamation by starting my prayer, the birds disappeared. As soon as I started the final prayer, the clouds covered the sun and it started raining. I felt like I was in a dream world, like we had just witnessed an interaction between heaven and earth.
You know, friends, there is an amazing sentence that we read today in the Torah portion, It is written, "And G-d said to Moses, ‘I forgive them because of you.’" This proclamation is repeated often during the Yom Kippur services. I feel, as a spiritual leader that it is my duty to talk about this painful subject. Let’s talk a little bit about this portion about which we just read. Think about how badly G-d and Moses were hurt. G-d had delivered the children of Israel from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, G-d rescued them by splitting the Red Sea so they could cross safely, G-d provided for them during their journey with manna from heaven and protected them for so many years in the wilderness.
While Moses was collecting the tablets on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel disobeyed and built an idol to worship. G-d was furious, and wanted to annihilate the children of Israel. Moses was very angry as well, as an expression of his anger, he threw the tablets on the ground and broke them. But this is the beauty of this portion: the message of forgiveness. After Moses and Aaron pled and begged G-d for forgiveness for the sins of the children of Israel, G-d had great mercy, and forgave. Even Moses could have taken advantage of the situation and told G-d, "OK, destroy them and build a new nation." But Moses loved them and had mercy and also forgave them.
It is obvious that it was a very difficult decision for G-d and for Moses. The fact is that the prayers that Moses and Aaron made on behalf of the children of Israel were numerous and long. But the final word was forgiveness and a second chance. You know friends; this topic that we are going to discuss this morning is a very painful subject to many and perhaps all of us. In the course of life, we will inevitably be hurt. Sometimes the pain is so great and severe that we carry that agony and sorrow for many months or many years. You have to ask yourself, "How can I forgive someone so close who betrayed me and hurt me so badly? How even can I think about forgiving this family member who did such a terrible thing to me?"
So, friends, here is the deal and the deal is very simple. We are here in a House of Worship and we are asking G-d to forgive us, we are asking him for help in our prosperity, in our health and in all of our situations. But our task is to also show G-d that we are also doing something to please Him. If we could take a moment to meditate, and recall our time here in this world, and consider forgiving some, even all of the people who have hurt us in the course of the years…I know that it is painful, like a having a difficult surgery, but we are required to go the extra mile and forgive other people, as the Almighty forgives us. There is no justification for the hurtful deed or behavior against us, but we are going an extra mile by pleasing the Almighty with our will to forgive.
There is a Jewish chant for a positive response from G-d. Our task in this world is to do things that are difficult for us in order to gain spiritual heights, in order to gain strong connections between us and the Almighty, we have to continually work to improve ourselves. By living a lifestyle of forgiveness, first we do a big favor to ourselves, by relieving pain that we have held on to for a long time. We improve our relationships and follow the path of G-d, which in turn leads to physical and spiritual health.
This man, who was buried last week, went the extra mile, even at the end, to better himself. In this Torah portion, Moses and G-d went the extra mile, to improve the relationship with His flock, His children. I feel that this is a necessary principle that we can apply to each of our lives. G-d said, "I forgive them." Moses also forgave them. It is time for us to consider forgiveness.
Just before you go to sleep, take a pen and a piece of paper, and recall some names and situations from the past that were hurtful, and write down that you forgive this person and that you are consciously starting a new chapter-- a chapter of compassion, mercy and forgiveness that will lead to a healthier life and more fulfilling life.
May G-d bless all of us with the ability grow spiritually and bring upon us a healthy and joyous life. AMEN.