Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin — Member: Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Albuquerque, New Mexico  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi’s Reflections

Grace, Loving kindness, Compassion & Mercy—Chayn

V’chesed Uv’rachamim – Yom Kippur morning 2014

Friday, 16 January 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Psalm 30:9 & 11 Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: I call to You, Yah! I plead [etchanan] with You Adonai! Listen, Yah! Be kind to me! [v’chonayni] Yah, please help me. “We should thank whatever God that we believe in that the Universe is not a just place, and we don’t get what we deserve”. [Travis Koplow] That was my ‘take away’ from a speech I heard a few years ago that was given by Travis Koplow, a writer from Los Angeles. Being shown kindness rather than harsh judgment - when we don’t get whatever verdict or punishment we do deserve, that is grace. Grace. Growing up in Minnesota, I thought that ‘grace’ was a Christian concept. At a friends’ house for dinner, there was always an uncomfortable moment for me when they would bow their heads and ‘say grace’. I heard my friends’ parents say things like, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. And in school when we sang “America the Beautiful” I never understood what it meant to say: God shed his grace on thee. Is it possible that this is a Jewish concept? Much to my surprise, the answer is: Absolutely! The Hebrew word is “cheyn”. In the Bible it is usually translated as ‘grace’ and is hard to distinguish from the concepts of mercy, compassion, and kindness. This conglomerate idea of grace-mercy-kindness & compassion comes from a verse in the Book of Exodus. Havayah, Havayah [Adonai, Adonai] El Rachcum v’Chanun, Erech Apayim v’ Rav Chesed v’Emet. YHVH, YHVH, God is compassionate and gracious, patient and abounding in loving kindness and truth; keeps kindness for a thousand eons, forgiving sin, rebellion and transgression. [Exodus 34:6]. This verse is referred to as the 13 Attributes of God. It is found in the Book of Exodus right after the incident of the Golden Calf. God wanted to obliterate us when we turned aside from our covenant so quickly and engaged in idolatrous, licentious and drunken behavior while worshipping a Golden Calf. According to the Talmud, in Rosh Hashanah 17b, Moses was certain that our sin was so egregious that he would not be able to intercede for us. This is when God appears to Moses and teaches him the 13 Attributes and says to Moses: "Whenever Israel sins, let them recite this [the Thirteen Attributes] in its proper order and I will forgive them." This is why this verse is scattered throughout the High Holy Day liturgy, beginning with Selichot, the Saturday night before Rosh HaShannah.We sing it throughout the High Holy Days in order to remind God to be gracious and compassionate to us. The High Holy Days are full of illusions to judgment. YHVH is a judging God. The archaic metaphor of the High Holy Day liturgy is that on Rosh HaShannah a judgment is written for each one of us, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed in the record. On Kol Nidre night we hear the line in the liturgy, ‘hinay Yom ha Din’ - - - behold, this is the Day of Judgment. And at Ne’ilah, the last service of Yom Kippur, we are urged to ‘do t’shuvah’ to turn from our destructive ways and to do it now, before the moment is lost, before the gates to heaven close. Throughout the Days of Awe, we pray wholeheartedly to be forgiven; we pray that our sins and errors will not be held against us. A tension exists between judgment and condemnation on the one hand and grace, forgiveness and compassion on the other hand. It is certainly easier to ask for forgiveness in an environment where grace, compassion and mercy hold sway. We know that it is terribly difficult to acknowledge what we have done wrong and come to a place of willingness to change when we are being glared at by someone who is judging us. The person doing the judging may be a real person — a parent, peer or partner — or we may have an internal voice that condemns us for failing yet again. Getting honest, acknowledging our failings and making real transformation all require an atmosphere of compassion. Even if our behavior was remarkably awful, in order to ‘fess up, we need a sense that we are going to be cut some slack, given a break, be believed in and trusted. The Rabbis of the Talmudic period alternately described God as a gracious, compassionate, merciful presence and as a judging presence. These two poles, two opposite characteristics are referred to in the Talmud as ‘haMidat haDin’, the attribute of justice and ‘haMidat haRachamim’ the attribute of compassion. There is a mystical concept that is prevalent throughout the Kabalistic literature. It is, “as above, so below, as below, so above”. This is visually represented by the kabalistic tree of life, with its’ trunk and branches spread out reaching into the heavens, and a corresponding mirror image of that same trunk and branches upside down. What does this mean? What we do matters. There are no guarantees – we all know that good and decent people can suffer terribly and that nasty, evil people can live a life of ease. Even so, there is an idea of measure for measure, that what we dish out comes back to us. If we are kind, then God will treat us with kindness. The Zohar, a mystical text, teaches us: “if a person does kindness on earth, that person awakens loving-kindness above”. [Zohar 3:92b] If we cut other people some slack, then God will judge us favorably, too. Pirkei Avot, a collection of wise aphorisms from the rabbis of the Talmudic period, emphasizes that we should refrain from judging others; we should give them a break and assume the best of them. Hillel said, “do not judge another person until you have been in his/her position”. [Pirkei Avot 2:5, adapted to be gender neutral] Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai “asked his students, what is the best quality a person should have? Rabbi Eliezer said: A good eye.” [Pirkei Avot 2:13 adapted to be gender neutral]. What does a ‘good eye mean? Having a generous nature when it comes to other people. The Talmud, in Shabbat 127b, expands on this idea of having a good eye, that is, looking at others through the lens of generosity. It tells a long story about an employer who was very delayed in paying his worker. The worker gave his employer the benefit of the doubt and did not judge him negatively. When the employer finally was able to pay him, he said: ‘just as you judged me favorably, so may the Omnipresent judge you favorably.’ So here we are on Yom Kippur, and I’m urging you to think about God as an accepting, kind, and compassionate Presence in our lives. Think of God, as the One Who Gives Us A Break. Take a moment and think about what would be helpful to you right now. What kind of a break do you need? Do you need to ease up on yourself? Do you need someone else to cut you some slack? Think about it for a moment and when you are ready, turn to someone near you who is not related to you and is not your partner or spouse. Decide which one of you will go first and then take turns telling one another what you need, and asking for a blessing that you should achieve it or receive it in the coming year. Make sure that you take turns.
A tension exists between judgment and condemnation on the one hand and grace, forgiveness and compassion on the other hand. It is certainly easier to ask for forgiveness in an environment where grace, compassion and mercy hold sway.
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin
Rabbi’s Reflections

Grace, Loving kindness, Compassion &

Mercy—Chayn V’chesed Uv’rachamim –

Yom Kippur morning 2014

Friday, 16 January 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Psalm 30:9 & 11 Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: I call to You, Yah! I plead [etchanan] with You Adonai! Listen, Yah! Be kind to me! [v’chonayni] Yah, please help me. “We should thank whatever God that we believe in that the Universe is not a just place, and we don’t get what we deserve”. [Travis Koplow] That was my ‘take away’ from a speech I heard a few years ago that was given by Travis Koplow, a writer from Los Angeles. Being shown kindness rather than harsh judgment - when we don’t get whatever verdict or punishment we do deserve, that is grace. Grace. Growing up in Minnesota, I thought that ‘grace’ was a Christian concept. At a friends’ house for dinner, there was always an uncomfortable moment for me when they would bow their heads and ‘say grace’. I heard my friends’ parents say things like, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. And in school when we sang “America the Beautiful” I never understood what it meant to say: God shed his grace on thee. Is it possible that this is a Jewish concept? Much to my surprise, the answer is: Absolutely! The Hebrew word is “cheyn”. In the Bible it is usually translated as ‘grace’ and is hard to distinguish from the concepts of mercy, compassion, and kindness. This conglomerate idea of grace-mercy- kindness & compassion comes from a verse in the Book of Exodus. Havayah, Havayah [Adonai, Adonai] El Rachcum v’Chanun, Erech Apayim v’ Rav Chesed v’Emet. YHVH, YHVH, God is compassionate and gracious, patient and abounding in loving kindness and truth; keeps kindness for a thousand eons, forgiving sin, rebellion and transgression. [Exodus 34:6]. This verse is referred to as the 13 Attributes of God. It is found in the Book of Exodus right after the incident of the Golden Calf. God wanted to obliterate us when we turned aside from our covenant so quickly and engaged in idolatrous, licentious and drunken behavior while worshipping a Golden Calf. According to the Talmud, in Rosh Hashanah 17b, Moses was certain that our sin was so egregious that he would not be able to intercede for us. This is when God appears to Moses and teaches him the 13 Attributes and says to Moses: "Whenever Israel sins, let them recite this [the Thirteen Attributes] in its proper order and I will forgive them." This is why this verse is scattered throughout the High Holy Day liturgy, beginning with Selichot, the Saturday night before Rosh HaShannah.We sing it throughout the High Holy Days in order to remind God to be gracious and compassionate to us. The High Holy Days are full of illusions to judgment. YHVH is a judging God. The archaic metaphor of the High Holy Day liturgy is that on Rosh HaShannah a judgment is written for each one of us, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed in the record. On Kol Nidre night we hear the line in the liturgy, ‘hinay Yom ha Din’ - - - behold, this is the Day of Judgment. And at Ne’ilah, the last service of Yom Kippur, we are urged to ‘do t’shuvah’ to turn from our destructive ways and to do it now, before the moment is lost, before the gates to heaven close. Throughout the Days of Awe, we pray wholeheartedly to be forgiven; we pray that our sins and errors will not be held against us. A tension exists between judgment and condemnation on the one hand and grace, forgiveness and compassion on the other hand. It is certainly easier to ask for forgiveness in an environment where grace, compassion and mercy hold sway. We know that it is terribly difficult to acknowledge what we have done wrong and come to a place of willingness to change when we are being glared at by someone who is judging us. The person doing the judging may be a real person — a parent, peer or partner — or we may have an internal voice that condemns us for failing yet again. Getting honest, acknowledging our failings and making real transformation all require an atmosphere of compassion. Even if our behavior was remarkably awful, in order to ‘fess up, we need a sense that we are going to be cut some slack, given a break, be believed in and trusted. The Rabbis of the Talmudic period alternately described God as a gracious, compassionate, merciful presence and as a judging presence. These two poles, two opposite characteristics are referred to in the Talmud as ‘haMidat haDin’, the attribute of justice and ‘haMidat haRachamim’ the attribute of compassion. There is a mystical concept that is prevalent throughout the Kabalistic literature. It is, “as above, so below, as below, so above”. This is visually represented by the kabalistic tree of life, with its’ trunk and branches spread out reaching into the heavens, and a corresponding mirror image of that same trunk and branches upside down. What does this mean? What we do matters. There are no guarantees – we all know that good and decent people can suffer terribly and that nasty, evil people can live a life of ease. Even so, there is an idea of measure for measure, that what we dish out comes back to us. If we are kind, then God will treat us with kindness. The Zohar, a mystical text, teaches us: “if a person does kindness on earth, that person awakens loving-kindness above”. [Zohar 3:92b] If we cut other people some slack, then God will judge us favorably, too. Pirkei Avot, a collection of wise aphorisms from the rabbis of the Talmudic period, emphasizes that we should refrain from judging others; we should give them a break and assume the best of them. Hillel said, “do not judge another person until you have been in his/her position”. [Pirkei Avot 2:5, adapted to be gender neutral] Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai “asked his students, what is the best quality a person should have? Rabbi Eliezer said: A good eye.” [Pirkei Avot 2:13 adapted to be gender neutral]. What does a ‘good eye mean? Having a generous nature when it comes to other people. The Talmud, in Shabbat 127b, expands on this idea of having a good eye, that is, looking at others through the lens of generosity. It tells a long story about an employer who was very delayed in paying his worker. The worker gave his employer the benefit of the doubt and did not judge him negatively. When the employer finally was able to pay him, he said: ‘just as you judged me favorably, so may the Omnipresent judge you favorably.’ So here we are on Yom Kippur, and I’m urging you to think about God as an accepting, kind, and compassionate Presence in our lives. Think of God, as the One Who Gives Us A Break. Take a moment and think about what would be helpful to you right now. What kind of a break do you need? Do you need to ease up on yourself? Do you need someone else to cut you some slack? Think about it for a moment and when you are ready, turn to someone near you who is not related to you and is not your partner or spouse. Decide which one of you will go first and then take turns telling one another what you need, and asking for a blessing that you should achieve it or receive it in the coming year. Make sure that you take turns.
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