There’s a story I like to share with our preschool and early elementary school students during this time of year. It is based on the book “The Hardest Word,” by Jacqueline Jules. Once upon a time, there was a kind, magical bird-like creature that loved spending time with the village children. But the creature was clumsy and one day, it accidentally destroyed the children’s vegetable garden. It immediately flew away, embarrassed and disappointed in itself. It called out to God for help, who in turn said, “Go and find the hardest word and you will learn how to fix the problem.”
The creature flew near and far, listening to conversations across the land in the hopes of discovering the hardest word. After many failed attempts, the creature called out to God again, saying, “God, I’m sorry, but I’ve searched far and wide and I just can’t find the hardest word.”
God replied, “But you have already found the hardest word.”
The creature was confused and sadly responded, “God, I’m sorry but I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
God called out, “You just said the hardest word again! The hardest word, dear creature, is ‘sorry’!”
And with that, the creature knew what to do. It gathered all its courage, flew back down to the village, brought the children together, and said, “I’m sorry.” After a more detailed apology, the children hugged the creature and they all got to work fixing up the garden.
Loosely based on our tradition’s understanding of tshuvah, Julia and I have developed a method to teach our own daughters about the importance of apologizing and using the ‘hardest word.’ After having hurt a sister’s feelings, the guilty party offers four statements:
1. "I'm sorry for doing X."
2. "When I did that, it made you feel X."
3. "I was wrong."
4. "Next time, I will X."
This type of reflective acknowledgment of our missteps and mistakes also guides us through the upcoming High Holy Day season. We are supposed to make a mental list of our mistakes, reflect on how they may have affected others, admit to our wrongdoings, and determine how we can change our behavior so as not to make the same mistakes again.
Tomorrow night marks the official beginning of this yearly process. Selichot is a special service on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah and the word selichot translates to ‘forgiveness.’ The evening is a catalyst for heightening our connection with the Divine and urging us to enter a deeper reflective state – Who are the people we have harmed? What actions have we taken that contradict our capacity for love and goodness? When have we fallen short? Where have we missed the mark?
When we actively recognize our failures and missteps, we can truly begin the work of tshuvah – returning to our best selves. Now is the time to prepare ourselves spiritually and emotionally for the High Holy Days. It’s time to revisit our use of the hardest word.
PS – Feel free to join us virtually tomorrow night as we join with Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Kehillat Israel to mark Selichot with learning sessions and an introspective evening service.
You can participate in our virtual study sessions and Havdalah via Zoom, link provided upon registration. Our Selichot service will be available to watch on wbtla.org, our YouTube channel, and Facebook.
7:15 p.m. STUDY SESSIONS ENDING WITH HAVDALAH
Strange Talmudic Stories of Forgiveness
Rabbi Sarah Bassin, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
The 13 Attributes of God in the 21st Century:
How the 13 attributes Can Help us Live Today
Rabbi Adam Lutz, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Holier Than Thou: What a twisted story from the Talmud can teach us about humility and the need to care for all of humanity
Rabbi Joel Nickerson, Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Prayer: A Mechanism of Resilience
Rabbi Daniel Sher, Kehillat Israel
8:15 p.m. SERVICE
No registration is required. Watch on wbtla.org, YouTube, or Facebook.