Prepent Day 18: The Periodic Table of Being a Mensch

Wednesday 9/21/16

Elul 18 5776


Dear Sarah,

For the past few days I was on the strangest email chain that engaged a few people in considering your legacy and virtues: Can Sarah the Matriarch, the one from Genesis, count as a Jewish heroine worthy of representing the character trait of ‘forgiveness’? I’m sorry - but I argued against it. I know you had a complex life and finally gave birth at 90 but when it came to defending your much-awaited-for son, you did your best - but destroyed the family. You have many virtues but I’m not sure forgiveness, in the context of temperance, is on the top of the list. Oh well. My friend Tiffany Shlain, whose gorgeously ambitious project THE ANNUAL CHARACTER DAY launches again tomorrow and who started this email chain, created this amazing chart of character traits and you were indeed chosen to be the face of forgiveness. Please forgive me for doubting you. By the way - can anyone think of other notable Jewish women (or men) from our history whose ability to forgive is a defining trait? Shockingly, we found but few.

This email chain, and the focus on character development, gives me pause on this 18th day of getting ready for a year of better character and honest living to try and deal and heal with some people in my life who challenge my own sense of forgiveness.

There is one person in particular, at whom I’m mad, who hurt and insulted me for reasons that I get but do not accept, and with whom I will not speak and find hard to forgive until I get an actual apology. This is a real struggle. Someone told me: “Forgiveness doesn’t excuse bad behavior - but it prevents this behavior from destroying your heart.”

I can’t forget and I want to forgive but like so many other conflicts this one really takes two willing partners. Perhaps, like you, oh ancient Sarah, I too need to learn that sometimes one has to wait it out before a blank forgiveness, that some strifes are more complex requiring deeper work and help from all directions. Perhaps I need, within, to try a little harder, have compassion, patience, trust. I want to work on all my character traits, thanks Tiffany, and this one seems to loom most large today.

I hope you forgive me for doubting your forgiveness potential. And friends: Who’s on your forgiveness list today and what can you too do about it?

Love, Amichai


PREPENT: Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s annual journey to the new year, with 40 ways in 40 days to reflect, refocus, recharge and restart life. This year features daily love letters inspired by Lab/Shul’s theme for the High Holy Days, “וְאָהַבְתָּ re:love.”

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This story "Prepent Day 18: The Periodic Table of Being a Mensch" was written by Amichai Lau-Lavie.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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