(Originally delivered in September, 2010 at The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, The Bayit)
Professionally, I know two things: Jewish education…and award winning skin care. Now, although I can offer you a plethora of products designed to help turn back the hands of time, Mary Kay offers very few teachings on repentance.
Thanks to the PJ Library, my children’s bedroom is well-equipped with holiday-related, and other Jewishly themed books. So nestled amongst the great rebbes: Angelina Ballerina, Arthur and D.W., Fancy Nancy, and Skippyjohn Jones, I found New Year at the Pier, A Rosh haShanah story that takes place just outside one of my former Hebrew schools. When Rabbi Neil explains that tashlich (the symbolic ritual of casting off one’s sins) “is like cleaning your heart’s closet,” young Izzy reflects on how he and his sister had cleaned their toy closet over the summer, given a lot away, and now it “seems bigger. Sometimes he just opens the closet to see how clean it is.” At the end, he enjoys walking home with a “clean, wide-open” heart.
Open our hearts. It should be easy for us. At the Bayit, we are asked on a regular basis to open our hearts. Do we do it?
When I was 15, a young friend of mine was killed in a car accident. At his funeral, his best friend was quiet. But the boy who I would call his enemy was beside himself, sobbing. Ethan and Justin were friends; Ethan was totally at peace with Justin’s death. Daniel and Justin had fought, bitterly, in the months before Justin’s accident. There was nothing anyone could do or say to console the 13 year old boy. He had never apologized, never repented. And, now, he couldn’t speak the words he had never said.
I once read of a funeral where the rabbi found himself trying to cajole a grieving husband to join the rest of the family and return home to begin Shiva. Lingering over the grave he said, “You don’t understand Rabbi, I loved my wife.” “I’m sure you did but you’ve been here a very long time. You should go now.” “You don’t understand, I loved my wife.” Again the rabbi urged him to leave. “But you don’t understand, I loved my wife—and once I almost told her.”
Open our hearts. Clean, wide-open. Repent. Do teshuvah. Before it’s too late and we’re REALLY sorry. Say the words you’ve maybe never said. Say “I’m sorry.” Two days ago it wasn’t on my bucket list. Maybe today it should be.