“By repairing our relationship with God, we will repair our relationship with everyone and everything around us.” –Author Unknown
The Joyless Relationship
Oblivious to her surroundings at a crowded boarding area in the Philadelphia airport, the woman seated across from me loudly informed her husband in clear and unmistakable terms exactly what she expected from him. Your job is to make me happy. Your only job, she continued, adding a little oomph for emphasis is to make me happy. It is not my job to make you happy.
Judging by the blank look on her husband face and his utter lack of acknowledgement that she was even speaking to him, I gathered this was not a newsflash. And by the looks of their worn-out elderly faces, I imagined he had heard this directive hundreds of times.
The Guilt-Ridden Relationship
With the hundreds of commandments given to us in the Torah that seemingly regulate our every move albeit to serve God, one could conclude that God’s overriding message to the Jewish people could sound like the wife in the airport. Listen up people. Your job is to make Me happy. Your only job is to make Me happy. It is not My job to make you happy. One could kinda get that feeling – right? It’s not that much of a stretch. But it would be dead wrong.
Previously in the story-line, we committed the sin of the Golden Calf (not good). But then we were forgiven, and we faithfully built the Tabernacle (good), which became the vehicle for the Divine Presence of God to connect with the Jewish people (really good). But now, in the Torah portion, Tzav, God is instructing Moses about the sacrificial offerings that the Jewish people will have to bring to atone for their sins – their future sins – as in the ones they haven’t even yet committed!
What’s with the Eternal Rub-in?
Wait a minute. This seems rather dis-affirming, doesn’t it? After the Golden Calf, we were just getting back on track with God. Did God have to rub in the fact that making mistakes is inevitable, thus ruining the moment of reunification with this “buzz-kill” from on high? Imagine getting married and before you even check into the hotel on your honeymoon, you have to sit down for a lecture on conflict resolution, fair fighting and how to appease your spouse.
Some Simple Truths
Each and every one of us make mistakes, and we will continue to make mistakes until we are either dead, or we lack capacity. Along with free will, making mistakes is simply wired into the very mechanism of creation. Perhaps if Adam had understood that fact, he would not have stayed hidden behind a bush and he could have come clean. It is crucial to understand that while we in fact “make” mistakes; we are not the mistake itself. Confusion on that point keeps us stuck in shame. Hence, when confronted with a mistake we lash out and blame others, and therefore we fail to learn from our errors and we cannot grow.
That’s not what God wants for us. We need to understand that we can atone for mistakes and we can change our thoughts and behaviors. Thus, Tzav, God lays out the way to deal with mistakes as part of the process of growth and restoring connection, otherwise known as the “right of repair.”
For example, marriage expert, John Gottman, often talks about how a key factor in protecting marriages against divorce is for couples to learn the art of the repair attempt, because it stops negativity from escalating, and it corrects a couple from heading off course. In all relationships – and especially the one we have with ourselves – we need a way back in.
The Joyful Relationship
The laws of the sacrifices gave us a way to process and rectify mistakes, to repair and restore our connection with God. And we needed to know that was possible from the very outset, or else we could get lost in self-condemnation, blame and shame. Hyper-focusing on our mistakes, and thinking we are beyond repair, leads to disconnection and an outward expression of anger that traps us in a downward negativity spiral.
Furthermore, the Hebrew word for sacrifice, “korban” is related to “karov” which means “to draw close.” It is specifically after we have messed up and feel so far away that we are given an opportunity to come back to the One who loves us and forgives us. The separation we can feel at times is not that God is far away from us, but that we have removed ourselves from God. The sacrificial offering is the “right of repair” that draws us close once again. The mechanism is already in place.
And that kind of truth, that amazing gift, can’t wait to be told. God was telling us something about fundamental human nature and relationships. We needed to understand that we are not perfect and that we will surely make mistakes – but the relationship will endure nevertheless! We need to be able to take risks, to be vulnerable and to be authentic; otherwise, we can become paralyzed by the constraints of perfectionism, which is a life-crippling syndrome.
The Eternal Relationship
In Tzav, God also instructs us to ensure that an eternal flame is lit. Providing the means to process and metabolize and move through our errors is the vehicle for growth, and it frees us to maintain our connection with that which is eternal – our connection to God and our inner flame.
What God is telling us, through all these commandments, is that our job – our only job – is to connect with God, and in so doing, we will be connected with our truest, deepest eternal selves. Appreciating the critical difference between making a mistake and being a mistake and utilizing the “right of repair” will help get us back on track with keeping lit the eternal flame of our soul, and living our life’s true mission.
Internalize & Actualize:
- If you weren’t scared of failure and making mistakes, what risks would you take right now in your life?
- What do you fear will happen if you make mistakes, especially in your relationships? What are you most scared you will lose? When thinking more about it, is this based in any kind of reality? If so, is the relationship really solid to begin with?
- List a few mistakes that you have made that you felt there was no way of repairing. Now rethink them and recognize that making mistakes is human and unavoidable. Write yourself a message acknowledging that while you made a mistake, you are not a mistake, and forgive yourself. How does telling yourself that you are not your mistake make you feel?