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8th Elul: Next time can be the right time

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith for ERA Elul Series 5782

In his 1968 book ‘Vietnam: Crisis of Conscience’, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel related the following anecdote from his life:

Here is the experience of a child of seven who was reading in school the chapter which tells of the sacrifice of Isaac: Isaac was on the way to Mount Moriah with his father; then he lay on the altar bound, waiting to be sacrificed. My heart began to beat even faster; it actually sobbed with pity for Isaac. “Behold, Abraham now lifted the knife.” And now my heart froze with fright. Suddenly, the voice of the angel was heard: “Abraham, lay not thine hand upon the lad, for now I know that thou fearest God” And here I broke out in tears and wept aloud. “Why are you crying?” asked the Rabbi. “You know that Isaac was not killed.”

And I said to him, still weeping, “But Rabbi suppose the angel had come a second too late?” The Rabbi comforted me and calmed me saying that an angel cannot come late. An angel cannot be late, but man, made of flesh and blood, may be.

Elul is that time when we consider what we have not succeeded in doing and for which the past year was the time for us to act. The opportunity may have passed to repair a relationship. It may be too late to stand up against an injustice. It may no longer be possible to create a much needed place of safety. Now the time may have passed and it is too late. For whatever reason we did not have the zerizut, alacrity, to do what was needed at the time that it was needed and so the harm was done. The knife, so to speak, dropped.

Yom Kippur can then be an opportunity for atonement that we did not manage what was needed at the time. We may be able to restore our relationship with the person harmed or it may now be that there never was contact because we were not there. Either way God can be our partner in reflection as to how we will act differently, at the right time next time. Next time we can be present and ready to act, right at the time when we are needed

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith LBC 1996 Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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