Parshat Vayeira, Genesis 18:1–22:24
I’ll never forget that day.
As a young child, I remember being glued to a TV set in Johannesburg, South Africa, where my family resided, on that momentous day of February 11, 1990.
It was the day Nelson Mandela was released to freedom after 27 years of torturous imprisonment in the isolated prison of the infamous Robben Island. A rally of thousands marched in the streets to greet their national hero, and he delivered to them an impassioned speech.
Toward the end of the day, a journalist approached Nelson Mandela with the following question: “Don’t you feel any resentment toward your country and its government for imprisoning you and oppressing you and your people for so many years?”
Without hesitation, and with a graceful smile, Mandela responded: “Resentment? Not at all! Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
The scene in this week’s portion is well known. The evil community of Sodom is about to be destroyed and burn up in flames. Only Lot and his family, who lived in the city, will be saved, under one condition: When they depart the city, they cannot look back. They must only look in one direction — forward. Alas, the temptation is too great for Lot’s wife. She looks back, and she turns into a pillar of salt.
The lesson is clear: If we cannot let go of the bitter experiences of our past, we become bitter. If we cannot march onward, we become trapped in one place as pillars of salt. And if we cannot “flap our wings” to shake off the hurts of yesterday, we will never be able to soar to the blessings of tomorrow.
Madeleine L’Engle, the famed American author, once wrote that “hatred hurts the hater more than the hated.” Similarly, the past hurts the person who drowns in it more than the person who rises from it.
In the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria composed a beautiful prayer to help us let go of any resentment, grudge and heartache we may have accumulated throughout the day so that we can awake the next morning with a fresh heart, a clean soul and a set of undefiled eyes focused on moving forward and upward.
The words of this prayer — which are recited every night, before going to sleep — are riveting: “Master of the universe, I hereby forgive everyone who has angered or antagonized me or who has sinned against me — whether against my body, my property, my honor or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought or notion; whether in this transmigration or another transmigration — I forgive every Jew and every person. May no one be punished because of me.
“May it be Your will, HaShem, my God and the God of my forefathers that I may sin no more, and whatever sins I have done before You, may You blot out in Your abundant mercies, but not through suffering or bad illnesses, please. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, HaShem, my Rock, and my Redeemer.”
So friends, if this prayer is not yet a part of your daily ritual, I encourage you to recite it along with the bedtime Shema prayer. Meditate it day and night. Embrace its message of forgiveness and renewal. And set yourself free. JN
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah In Scottsdale.