PREPARING TO PREPARE FOR CHANGE

Do you know people who must blame others and seek vengeance when they are hurt? We often feel, or rationalize, that the other "has it coming," because they have hurt us. We plan "how can I get back at him or her?" Children often blame those around them or even lash out when they feel pain, physical or mental. Some adults never progress beyond that life stage, grumbling that their misfortune came from external causes, as though they had no part to play in the events. They spend more time blaming and planning retaliation than repairing and healing. They forfeit both responsibility and the possibility to redirect their own lives.

For the last 3 weeks of haftarah readings, prior to Tisha B'Av, the holiday on which we commemorate the disasters that afflicted the Jewish people, Jews have been blaming ourselves for our misfortunes, mostly by saying we were disloyal to God.

But now, we begin 7 weeks of consolation, nehemta, in which the haftarot for shabbat worship promise that God will restore us to our original favor because we sinned, repented, were punished and then God restored us. Jews accept responsibility, often even when attacked without cause, as in the Middle Ages.

The lesson of the haftarot prepares us for the purpose of Rosh Hashanah. First we examine our behavior to discover where we are at fault for the calamities that have plagued us. But then, having identified the faults in ourselves, we admit, repent, are punished and change.

But why 7 weeks of lessons? Because change requires planning and execution, and rarely comes easily. Perhaps we have not been entirely kind to those we love. It takes time to assess, redirect our lives, demonstrate the changes through our daily behavior, to convincingly ask for forgiveness, and to live differently. This is not an overnight process. Some people will wait for the month of Elul to repent, but the mental questioning and preparation for change can begin now.

Our liturgical cycle, the special Torah and haftarah readings, often tell us where we should be in our lives. They set a tone, a mood rather than an emotion, for our day to day thoughts and meditations. How might I become a better person, a more responsible family member, a better citizen, by accepting responsibility for what is happening to me and around me and preparing myself for change. Even when others hurt us, what did we do to contribute to the hurt? We can change only ourselves.

The haftarot signal the spiritual season, and in order to live as God intends, we do well take note and prepare.

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.