Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW, Rabbinic Director, JBFCS
The High Holidays are a time of Tshuvah, often translated as "Repentance". They integrate many dimensions and activities: personal moral introspection and accounting, seeking and granting forgiveness and interpersonal reconciliation. The following story, which dates from Talmudic times, illustrates how difficult and important this work is:
Soft as a Reed
Once, Rabbi Simon ben Eleazar was returning from the house of his master in Midgal Eder, riding on an ass and making his way along the seashore. He came upon an unusually ugly man. He said to him: "Empty one! What a beast you are! Is it possible that everyone in your town is an ugly as you are?!"
The man replied: "What can I do about it? Go to the Craftsman who made me and tell Him, How ugly is that utensil that you created!"
When Rabbi Simon ben Eleazar realized that he had sinned, he got off his ass, prostrated himself before the man, and said: "I beg you to forgive me!"
He said to him, "I shall not forgive you until you go the Craftsman who made me and tell Him, How ugly is that utensil you have created!"
Rabbi Simon ran after the man for three miles. The townspeople came out to meet him, calling in his direction, "Peace be to you, my lord!"
The man said to them, "Whom do you call, my lord?"
They replied, "The one who is following after you."
He said to them, "If this is my lord, may there not be many more like him in Israel!"
They replied, "God forbid! What has he done to you?"
He said to them, "He did thus and so to me."
They said, "Nonetheless, forgive him."
He said to them, "I forgive him, on the condition that he not make a habit of acting in that way."
On that same day, Rabbi Simon entered his great study-house and gave an exposition:
"One should always be soft as a reed and not as tough as a cedar.
"In the case of a reed, all the winds in the world can go on blowing against it, but it sways with them, so that when the winds grow silent, it returns to stand in its place. And what is the destiny of a reed? In the end a pen is cut from it with which to writer a scroll of the Torah.
"But in the case of a cedar, it cannot stand in place, but when the south wind blows against it, it uproots the cedar and turns it over. And what is the destiny of a cedar? Foresters come and cut it down, and use it for roofs of houses, and the rest they toss into the fire.
"On the basis of this fact they have said, One should always be as soft as a reed and not as tough as a cedar."
- Avot de Rabbi Natan XLV:3,1
These "Spirituality Notes" are excerpts from our monthly E-newsletter. Articles are © JBFCS Rita J. Kaplan Jewish Connections Programs and may be reprinted free of charge as long as this credit line is included.