For many years I hadn’t heard about Ted Talks. Once I did, I soon realized many people talk too much and often for no good reason at all. A couple of years ago an article came out based on a TED Talks series “How to Be a Better Human” which postulated that we say “sorry” way too often. It reasoned that apologies “make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence.” And of course in a society where everything revolves around how the “I” feels, why should one walk around feeling like a small “i” so that you can feel like a big YOU? The only problem with that way of living life is that it is Godless. In the preservation of the “I” and in our mania to foster it, everything and everyone becomes a casualty. The article posited that even apologizing for bumping into someone, is one sorry too many. However, that entire philosophy most certainly steps on God’s “foot,” which leads to this week’s Parasha, Vayikra and many reasons to be sorry.
Without having to ask “Can you hear Me now?” for the third time in the Torah it is written that God “called” Moses. Once again it was to assume a momentous duty. So important is this new duty that the entire book of Leviticus is titled Vayikra, which means, “He called.” Leviticus opens with God instructing Moses how the Israelites should “say sorry,” to atone for their sins through sacrificial service. They were to atone not only for sins against God, but for sins against each other. They were to atone not only for sins they did, but also for their sinful thoughts. They were to atone not only for clear violations of the commandments, but for sins they were not certain they even violated. They were to atone not only for sins they did on purpose, but for ones they committed accidentally. Why? Because God takes “sorry” very seriously. Yes Moses got the “call,” but who’s sorry now?
The sages teach that thought, speech and action are garments of the soul. We need to clean those garments when they become sullied by sin. The sacrifices provided the remedy to purify those “garments.” And let’s not keep this so sterile. The act of sacrificing involves slaughtering a living animal, cutting it into pieces and sprinkling blood, etc.; It’s gory even if it is for a holy end. But be sure that those who brought sacrifices were cognizant of one thing: that the animal before them was dying in their stead. Since it is the animal soul of man that causes him to sin, “atonement comes about only through blood” (Zevachim 26b).
But there is one thing that even sacrifices cannot do for us, and that is to say sorry to one we have wronged, hurt, lied to or from whom we’ve stolen (which includes stealing time, reputation, manipulating, etc.) Until we make good, God won’t forgive us. Even our fasting on Yom Kippur absolves only our sins toward God not those perpetrated against others. When we try and preserve the “I”, our ego makes no room for God, for goodness, for apologies or forgiveness. And luxuriating in our own imagined greatness will bring us to sin. The word for “I” in Hebrew is “ani”; when the same letters are rearranged they spell the Hebrew word “ayin," which means nothingness. Moses was the most humble person in history because he rearranged the letters, perceived his nothingness and in a profound unfathomable way he lived beyond the “I.” That made him the worthy recipient and teacher of God’s Torah.
In this generation of selfies and excessive self-love, the challenge for us all is ever harder. The “I” has been exponentially fortified, digitized, glamorized and monetized, but scantily spiritualized. Unfortunately, the third Temple has yet to be rebuilt and we can’t throw some poor sheep on the fire to atone for us. But saying sorry to God, to our neighbors and to ourselves is still possible through prayer, charity and repentance. If God loved Moses for being the most humble man on earth then we can deduce, even though we are no Sherlock Holmes, that God must hate the arrogant and prideful. And indeed it is written in the Talmud that where the arrogant reside, God cannot dwell. So don’t be too "proud" and cool to wear a kippa and to ask for a kosher meal; don’t be too haughty to say I think I will stop working on Shabbat; don’t be too cosmopolitan to say I am a Jew and I love Israel. To be a Jew means to make sacrifices and take risks in our lives for God, for our Homeland, for our people and for all humanity.
Forget about all the self-help books which expire like old medicine and the Ted Talks promising to make you the best YOU; God’s eternal book will make you the best JEW and therein you’ll find the best you. In that destined role you will truly find who you are. "Just as physical light influences plants to grow, spiritual and intellectual light [Torah] prods man to achieve his potential." (Rabbi Michael L. Munk). So, yes, be sorry. Be very very sorry if tomorrow you are not a better person and better Jew than you were today. And if you think saying sorry to God or to man makes you “small”, then I’m very sorry to tell you, you weren’t all that much to begin with. Shabbat Shalom!
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