Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kedoshim: Letting Go of Resentment

This week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, marks the halfway point of the Torah cycle, and it stands at the center of the text both geographically and metaphorically. The nineteenth chapter of Leviticus contains many of the best-known moral imperatives from our tradition. It commands us to strive for holiness, keep Shabbat, care for the poor, and honor the stranger in our midst. It is also the source of the famous teaching: “Love your neighbor as yourself (v’ahavta l’rayechah camochah).

The words immediately preceding that “Golden Rule” are less widely recognized but of equal importance: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your people.” This implies that in order to love our neighbor, we must be willing to forgive their wrongdoings and not dwell on past hurts. Of course, this is much easier said than done. We tend to remember every time people hurt or slight us, much more vividly than we recall their acts of lovingkindness on our behalf. This propensity to dwell on old injuries and injustices can easily lead to an obsession with victimhood and an inability to move forward in our lives.

Recognizing this difficulty, Maimonides notes: “The desire for revenge is a very bad trait and we must do our best to relinquish it. One way is to realize that many things that prompt our wrath are vanity and emptiness and are not worth seeking revenge for.” To which the contemporary teacher and counselor Rabbi Abraham Twerski adds: “Carrying resentments is like letting someone whom you don’t like live inside your head rent-free. Why would anybody allow that?”

It is no accident that we read Kedoshim, with its injunction against grudge-bearing and vengeance, in this season of spring, in the aftermath of Pesach. The rebirth and renewal in the natural world reminds us that we, too, can start anew in our personal relationships. And the Passover festival encourages us to leave the narrow places of heart and spirit that are our Egypts, our Mitzrayim. Our journey to freedom starts with getting those destructive rent-free tenants out of our heads.

May the end of Pesach and the week to come bring blessing, reconciliation and rejuvenation to us all.

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