Sunday, June 3, 2012

To the Stars and Back - Our Quest for Connection / Part 4 of 7

Related to whether or not to engage with others and with the world is the matter of how we engage. Part of a Talmudic sequence of stories related to seeking forgiveness offers some options. “When a certain person injured Rabbi Zera, [Rabbi Zera] would repeatedly pass before him and invite himself into his presence, so that the injurer would come and appease him.” Moshe Halbertal identifies Rabbi Zera’s graceful entrance into the presence of one who had injured him as an action worthy of emulation that created the conditions in which it was possible for the injurer to approach him and ask for forgiveness in a way in which no one was humiliated.[1]

In the story that follows, Rav, on the day before Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, at the eleventh hour for seeking forgiveness, goes to see a butcher who had slighted him. Rav’s colleague expresses concern that Rav is going to kill the butcher, and, in fact, the butcher rejects Rav’s presence, a supernatural event occurs, and the butcher dies. Halbertal points out that Rav’s strident intrusion when the clock is ticking for forgiveness is an act of aggression, influenced more, perhaps, by Rav’s need to be forgiven, than the butcher’s need to forgive. Rav got stuck in the details and forgot to see the Big Picture. He chose to engage, but with anger and aggression rather than humility and grace.

Let us ask ourselves, “Do I approach others with humility and love or do I approach with hurt, aggression, and anger?” The answer, as these stories show, makes all the difference in the world. Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, teaches that, “While it is true that anger brings extra energy…[w]e cannot be sure whether its result will be positive or negative. This is because anger eclipses the best part of our brain: its rationality. So the energy of anger is almost always unreliable. It can cause an immense amount of destructive, unfortunate behavior.”[2] Gyatso posits that anger and hatred are always harmful, they are our real enemies, and we should find ways to cherish and develop passion and love. Holding a vision or a sense of our place in a bigger picture can help us to open our hearts and minds and souls, to be less afraid and less angry, and to feel more love and compassion. As we go through our days, it can be helpful to know how to hold our hand at arm’s length before us and, as we gaze at our hand, be able to shift our focus from the hand to the room beyond and back again, and to know when the focus is best on the hand, and when it is best on the view beyond to the Big Picture.

[1] “At the Threshold of Forgiveness: A Study of Law and Narrative in the Talmud,” by Moshe Halbertal, Jewish Review of Books, No. 7, Fall 2011.
[2]Compassion and the Individual,” by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet,

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