What’s In A Word?

Opinion by Bob Ritter

Some words are trivial, simply to serve their purpose in an overall line of communication. But there are some words that are powerful all by themselves. Such is the word which is the subject of this “President’s Article.” The word is FORGIVENESS.

A little over a month ago we gave particular attention to concepts associated with forgiveness during Selichot and the High Holidays. We dedicate our holiest ritual to the need to give and ask for forgiveness, and we associate forgiveness as being one of the quintessential qualities of the Holy One.

It’s not by coincidence that I chose this word. I’ve been thinking about why “forgiveness” is such an important concept for Vassar Temple since I was asked to be Vice President nearly 3 years ago. But I haven’t spoken of it much until recently, because we have many more pressing matters. Considerable progress has been made on many fronts!

As challenging as those matters are, they pale in comparison to the challenge we have with forgiveness. In my opinion, forgiveness is as important as our financial objectives, because ultimately our ability to do what is necessary to achieve lasting financial sustainability also requires us to find forgiveness.

Look up antonyms for “forgiveness” and you’ll find “blame, accusation, censure” and even” meanness.” All of which produce anger. These negative sentiments are not healthy for either our temple or the Jewish community.

You may wonder, where do I see problems with forgiveness? I will leave you, the readers, to look into your heart and answer that question.

When we fail to forgive we are trapped in the past, and holding on to old anger. It works like a self-fulfilling prophecy – because it closes our mind to any possible justifications for others’ actions. We invalidate them. And that only feeds our anger and raises the walls we need to overcome to find forgiveness.

In order to start to forgive, we first must recognize that we don’t forgive for the other person! We forgive for ourselves – for that which we value! Forgiveness sets us free and opens our mind to new possibilities and potential. It allows us to partner and solve problems together.

In addition, when we don’t forgive others we can’t love God to our fullest because part of us is occupied by anger. Perhaps the next time you recite the Shema, which calls us to love the Holy One completely, consider at that same moment the possible value in forgiving others so that you and Vassar Temple can move forward.

I believe the ultimate solutions to Vassar Temple’s greatest challenges, as well as the challenges facing the Reform movement in Dutchess County, depend on ALL of us being willing to forgive. I’ll close with the wisdom of Ann Landers who said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

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