Forgiving God


In case you are not joining me for Yom Kippur Kol Nidrei tonight, here is my sermon/drasha/speech that I will be giving tonight at Hillel Harkam Academy. More info at


When I get hurt, what is my natural reaction?
When I am in a dispute, what is my gut reaction?
I cut off relations,
I speak badly about the person,
I harbor pain and hurt in my heart.
I get really mad.
I take it out on someone else.
I make hasty decisions, say regrettable emails and texts.

And then Yom Kippur arrives and I am somehow supposed to undo all that.
I am supposed to rise about nature to forgive, forget, let bygones be bygones.

Isn’t this a little bit impossible?

I mean when I get hurt, i take it so personally. Its as if this person really had it in for me.

It doesn’t matter that this person might have no idea at all what they did.
It doesnt matter that I was actually in the wrong.
It doesnt matter that I perceived something and was totally off base in my judgement.
It doesnt matter that I resolved myself last yom kippur to deal with these situations differenlty
It doesnt matter that I know in my heart that I am about to do the wrong thing – but I just cannot help myself.
It doesn’t matter that my tradition doesn’t permit me to hold a grudge. Big Deal!
It doesnt matter because I am right and they are wrong, and so be it.

I am not budging, not moving an inch.

So often, that is just the case.

Then some time passes. I am not as angry. I replay the incidents in my mind over and over again, and realize that maybe, just maybe I did not have the full picture.

Then I sit nursing my wounds, angry at myself, feeling like the lowest shlump in the world.

I beat myself up over this again and again.
But now I am embarrassed, I cannot possibly overcome this embarrassment. I am regretful.
I have severed a relationship with a good friend.
How am I supposed to fix all this?
How am I supposed to fix this mess in my life that I have created?


On Yom Kippur I need to forgive God.

Yeah, it’s God that I am mad at.

But how? How can I forgive that which I think is unforgivable?

It so happens that God built into Yom Kippur something unique – the ability to rise above my nature.

On Yom Kippur I don’t eat, I don’t drink, I don’t make love – I go beyond my human failings, desires and cravings and put myself in a different dimension.

And through this I am able to perceive that really, really, I have no idea what is going on in the big picture of life.

Maybe what God had in store for me this past year was really all the best.
Maybe, I got so much of this wrong.
Maybe, I was totally off-base.
Maybe, I needed an excuse for my behavior.
Maybe, I needed to blame someone because its just too much for me to bear responsibility for.
Maybe, I was quick to anger, quick to judgement.

Maybe, it is me who should be asking for forgiveness.

Yom Kippur was designed as a day where I can rise about human nature.
It is a day where I can return to God and ask forgiveness.
It is a time that I can acknowledge that what God has done for me is out of love, not malice.
It is a place where I can find refuge and relief.
It is a moment that if I am smart enough I can carry throughout the year.

This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and lift myself out of this self-pity.
This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and reflect on my reactions and responses to adversity.
This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and be joyous for every moment, whether it be how I want it or not.
This year, I am going to hold onto Yom Kippur and try to live above my nature.

This year I am going to forgive God Himself.

And you know what is the best part about forgiving?
What is the result of forgiving?
I have a chance repair everything
I am clos

er than ever before.
I see things differently.
I respond differently.
I act differently.

On Yom Kippur, I can transform an entire year in just one moment.
On Yom Kippur, I can put in motion a healthy relationship moving forward.
On Yom Kippur, I can start to get things back to the way they can be.
On Yom Kippur I forgive God, and know that God will forgive me.

Have a meaningful fast, and may we dance together in Jerusalem next year!

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Kaparot: Wave Money, Not Chickens

kaparot chickens in cagesI don’t use chickens. After witnessing years of chickens wallowing in their own feces in small cages waiting to be schechted (slaughtered) for the ritual of Kaparot before Yom Kippur, I gave up on this custom. I once was enamored of this ancient ritual whereby the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to the chicken, which is then slaughtered and given to the poor to eat. It was exotic. But no more. I find it reprehensible for Jews to behave this way to animals.

I routinely travel to the places where these chickens are being slaughtered and document the conditions. The laws in Judaism about how to treat animals are being flagrantly violated. Cramped into cages they can’t event stand up in, or in cardboard boxes — yes, cardboard boxes — the chickens are out in the hot sun, without water, wallowing in feces. The entire operation has a smell that is so foul I have thrown-up.

As an Orthodox Jew I speak out that this custom must change.There is no way today to perform this ritual in a humane way, simply because the number of chickens being used for the ritual is so enormous.

The rabbis long ago said that the ritual can be done with money. The money is then given to tzedakah. Use the amount that is spent on a chicken — usually about $18 a bird. One waves the money over the head, or the head of your children and recite sthe same verses. There is no difference to how the ritual is performed, except that this is not “A Mitzvah which comes from a Sin,” which is obviously frowned upon.

Next we need to talk about factory farming.