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Dear Friends,

The Talmud relates the following tale. It states:

There were these hooligans in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who caused him a great deal of anguish. Rabbi Meir prayed for God to have mercy on them, that they should die.

Rabbi Meir’s wife, Berurya, said to him: What is your thinking? On what basis do you pray for the death of these hooligans? Do you base yourself on the verse, as it is written: “Let sins cease from the land” (Psalms 104:35), which you interpret to mean that the world would be better if the wicked were destroyed? But is it written, “let sinners cease? [No, what is written there is] “Let sins cease.” One should pray for an end to their transgressions, not for the demise of the transgressors themselves.

Berurya reminded her husband that the missteps and shortcomings of others don’t define them any more than our missteps and shortcomings should define us. They are, she taught, merely missteps and shortcomings; challenges to be overcome so we can move forward, hurdles before we can rebuild and deepen our relations to one another, to God and to ourselves. Change is possible, Berurya taught. And when a sincere attempt to change is made, we owe it to ourselves and those we love to look forward rather than back.

Her wise counsel permeates this month of Elul. But only if we use this time to truly engage in teshuvah—repentance and return. And that begins by taking some time this Shabbat for self-reflection.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen