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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Go as Far as You Can

There’s a popular story that is told in the month of Elul, the month immediately preceding the High Holidays. It’s a story of a king who is estranged from his son. Maybe the king kicked him out of the kingdom. Maybe the son left because he saw no way to be true to himself while living with his father. Whatever the reason, the king is having a change of heart and asks his aides to go find his son and ask him to return home. The son resists. Maybe he is too bitter or too self-righteous. The aides come back to inform the king that his request has been turned down. The king tells them to contact his son again, and this time to say, ”Return as far as you can, and I will come the rest of the way to meet you.”

I love this story because it’s about making the effort. It’s about letting go of the grudge. It’s about reconciliation. It’s about going as far as you can and not expecting perfection. It’s about humility and second chances.

While the story is told as the dynamic between a parent and a child, this type of tale is often meant to also be a parable about our relationship with the Almighty. We stray from the Divine and we are met as we make our way back to more righteous ways. None of us is so bad that the Holy One does not want to reach out to us.

 While this story is told with a power differential – be it parent to child or the Almighty to human -- there is a way to see this story as about making amends in general. Who is reaching out to us to meet us halfway? To whom do we want to extend our offer to meet us as far as they can go? We need to ask for forgiveness as well as grant forgiveness. Can we soften our attitude about seemingly irreconcilable situations?

 It reminds me of the Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai and his poem The Place Where We are Right:

                From the place where we are right
                Flowers will never grow
                In the spring.

                The place where we are right
                Is hard and trampled
                Like a yard.

                But doubts and loves
                Dig up the world
                Like a mole, a plow.
                And a whisper will be heard in the place
                Where the ruined
                House once stood.

We have an opportunity to turn and be vulnerable, to make an effort and encourage a response. It is possible that if we go as far as we can, we may be met by someone moving toward us. If a King, who seemingly has everything, is not fulfilled due to unresolved differences in his life, then how much the more so for us mere mortals. May we find it in ourselves to go the distance during these days of reflection.

Wishing you and yours meaningful High Holidays!