The Depth of Forgiveness

unnamedForgiveness is really nothing more than an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It is free, it works and has no side effects.

 

The day I forgave the Nazis, privately I forgave my parents whom I hated all my life for not having saved me from Auschwitz. Children expect their parents to protect them; mine couldn’t. And then I forgave myself for hating my parents.

 

Eva Kor, now 81, is a survivor of Auschwitz with her twin sister Miriam, both were held hostage for experimentation by Dr. Josef Mengele. Eva and Miriam’s two older sisters and their father and mother were murdered at Auschwitz; the twins survived the selection on the platform off the cattle cars, they were a prized commodity.

 

There is a rather lengthy back story to my personal interest in Mrs. Kor so I was pleased and surprised that she agreed to meet to discuss forgiveness with a small group of KE students. She had a very busy agenda during her visit last week to Denver, she was the keynote speaker at the ADL sponsored Governor’s Holocaust Memorial program and gave a number of local press interviews. Mrs. Kor does not have an entourage; she travels alone and travels a lot, speaking as often as she can about her experiences and about forgiveness.

 

Many are incredulous hearing Mrs. Kor speak about her forgiving the Nazis and specifically, forgiving Josef Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death” [see her documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1017643289/.] Mrs. Kor states clearly that she is not speaking for or on behalf of anyone else. Her forgiving Mengele, which she struggled with for many years, is a private decision. “At first I was adamant that I could never forgive him but then I realized I had the power now, the power to forgive. It was my right to use it. No one could take it away.” She finds freedom in forgiveness and encourages others to find freedom as well. Her method is simple: write a letter to those that hurt you and then close the letter by forgiving them. She wrote such a letter addressed to Dr. Mengle. She wrote such a letter to each of her parents.

 

When I asked Eva about her parents whom she hated she initially gave the same answer that is the more public answer—they did not protect her and her sisters from the Nazis, they did not survive to take care of her and Miriam after the war was over. She then shared with candor that her Rumanian childhood was abuse filled, among the Mozes sisters, Eva was singled out by her father for harsh treatment. Her father’s abuse, and the lack of intervention by her mother or other adults led to both a smoldering hatred of her father and the development of a defiant child who would either outsmart him and avoid corporal punishment or stand up to him and exacerbate the beatings. She could not know that her father’s mistreatment would harden her resolve to defy and outsmart her Nazi captors; that she could only understand much later in life, and it still did not alleviate her hurt and anger toward her father. That is until she forgave Dr. Mengele. The wisdom in forgiveness she discovered is not about forgiving the other; it is about releasing the self.

 

Eva’s father never forgave her for being a girl. Mr. Mozes was blessed with two healthy girls, but he wanted a boy. Eva narrates about her birth: “When the midwife delivered Miriam she tried to lift my father’s spirits, ‘Don’t despair Mr. Mozes there is another one!’ He never forgave me for not being a boy.” Forgiveness has been and continues to be her theme—from her first breath to present ones. Eva Mozes Kor did not die in Auschwitz. She breathes on with a message so worthy of our attention: We can forgive even those that are unable or unwilling to forgive us. It is a freedom she wrested by writing a letter—and engraving the wisdom of forgiveness in her heart.

 

Dayenu—The Present is Enough

250px-Daiyyeinu_manuscriptI recently received a message from my computer, which can be very courteous if it is in a good mood, alerting me that memory was almost full. Any one of your external brains may signal you about reaching critical capacity—too many photos, texts, emails etc.

 

Can you imagine if you periodically received a message from your brain that it was time to clear out some files to make room for new information? The brain, according to the most recent understanding in Neuroscience, is constantly organizing and updating the content of memory and at times politely asks: “Do you want to replace the existing file with the new version?”

 

This morning I was looking up the etymology of the word “enough” which I should have already known from my smattering of Yiddish words that it was connected to the German word: “genug.” How many times had I heard my grandparents and parents say that word in the appropriate context of “genug-enough (already)”? I closed my eyes and tried to retrieve the file “genug” wondering if it was under Yiddish words, Behavior deemed inappropriate by my elders or the larger folder of Childhood memories.

 

I don’t mean to imply that the filing system of the brain is as discrete as files in a cabinet or in your document folder. The brain, as Neuroscientists are also discovering, is a far more complex system of interconnections, perhaps more like a cross referencing library.

 

Why was I looking up the etymology of the word enough? For those familiar with the Passover Seder song: Dayenu—it is the song whose refrain means enough or more broadly, it would have been enough. It is a song of gratitude for all the steps of freedom that are part of the exodus story. Year in and year out (as revealed by the editor) the Intermountain Jewish News reprints an essay on the Dayenu song by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg. This is the first time I recall reading it (though I have a vague sense it is filed under Needs a response). Rabbi Goldberg’s main point is that the Dayenu song guides us to be present in the moment—each moment of the exodus from Egypt, every experience, he explains was “utterly full”—the present moment filled them completely. Rabbi Goldberg uses the theme of Dayenu to clarify a very important aspect of being present—not being focused on what comes next, as he writes: “No future moment entered the freed slave’s consciousness.”

 

Passover indeed is understood in Kabbalah as the holiday that asks us to reflect on our relationship with time—to become “masters” of time and not slaves to time. Rabbi Goldberg has eloquently focused on a part of the equation—to be present means to savor the present without thinking about the next bite. The other part of the equation and of equal importance is our relationship with the past. Regarding the past, Rabbi Goldberg follows in the footsteps of many before him by distinguishing that Passover is not a celebration of the past, rather, “it is a reliving of the past, a moment of re-experience.” He takes the teaching literally that one should imagine oneself on Passover as if he is “reliving being enslaved, then reliving being liberated; as if he personally has gone out of Egypt and he is living through all the events of that era.”

 

On this point I respectfully take a different view: Our dance with the past cannot be as he suggests, nor would we want it to be as he suggests. In order to be present we not only need to be in this moment we cannot feign the experience of others, we cannot re-live another’s experience.
In our own day many have taken a pilgrimage to Auschwitz and other death camps which may engender a profound empathy and even a communion with the suffering and anguish of those brutalized and murdered there. To suggest that anyone, other than a survivor herself could “re-live” the experience is at best a naïve proposition; it also leads one into a relationship with the past that is problematic with being present.

 

The Kabbalists therefore preferred the notion that we are not re-living the experience, we are applying the experience (of others) be they freed slaves thousands of years ago or those liberated from the death camps of the last and our present century. We therefore ask ourselves to examine what enslaves us now and begin to meditate on how we can liberate ourselves from that enslavement. A Kabbalist alters the reading of the well-known phrase in Hebrew to mean that we take the opportunity to see ourselves as leaving (our) Egypt rather than as leaving that Egypt (for those who know Hebrew: Read it Yozeh—present tense, rather than Yatza-past tense).

 

Egypt then becomes a relevant metaphor for every generation and in every generation (and for every individual) it will mean something different. We must avoid the temptation to reprint and have the courage to push the refresh button—otherwise we can and will get stuck not only in the past, but in a past that is not even our own.

 

Wishes for a Meaningful Pass Over

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 11.25.12 AMDear KE Community:

 

A few years ago a group of hip Jews wrote and published The New American Haggadah for Passover. For me there was not that much new about it, and beside it being in English, I was not sure what made it American. So this year I created a new Haggadah based on a teaching from my Kabbalah teacher. I hope you enjoy it (it is attached) entitled A Free Will Telling. Its’ basic theme is the stages one journeys through from any “state” of enslavement to a “state” of awakening and awareness. Now if you want to build with completely new bricks why pull off the shelf old bricks—in this case, the Passover story which is not old but arguably ancient?

 

An answer is found in this wonderful piece by David Kaetz (an abbreviated version is found toward the beginning of the Haggadah). Here is the longer version from his book, Making Connections.:

 

“A boat is a vehicle for crossing the sea. You don’t get to choose the furniture in your cabin, and the captain wears a funny hat. A good boat can get you from New York to Liverpool better than swimming. If you throw yourself into the water in the Hudson River, as it flows by Manhattan Island, some part of you might make it to England, but probably not all of you.

 

A tradition is a vehicle for carrying something through time. If wisdom is embedded in a tradition, it has a better chance of travelling safely through the centuries. For this to work the wisdom must be packed in things that do not degrade with time, things that can be unpacked at every station—things like symbols, myths, stories. These are things that no matter how often you unpack them will travel onward for another generation to unpack, and unpack differently. Sometimes the wisdom may emerge brilliant and obvious, sometime obscure and esoteric, and sometimes people will find nothing there at all. But if the tradition continues, the wisdom will keep travelling, in the hope that, at another port in the flow of time, another generation will find it and embody it once more.”

 

Have you ever gone on or planned a trip and filled your suitcase with all brand new clothing? That is a new way to unpack—all new clothing, a fresh start, in unchartered waters and you—ready to be present for whatever this moment calls for, from and of you. But not all trips are taken just this way as we accumulate “stuff” (actual clothing or ideas and emotions etc.) and that stuff can serve us well if we have examined carefully what clothing works best for the present journey—in that way it becomes new in this moment (otherwise is it stagnant and in the past).

 

We start a new semester next week—a first for starting class during the Passover holiday and we will take advantage of the time—a time when we shift our relationship with time (counting each day and making each moment count)—to be present in each moment, with each moment so that all becomes momentous.

 

Happy holidays, david

 

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