William Hamilton

Rehearsing repentance

Lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville signaled an early victory for the civil rights movement.  Courageous students in 1960 were willing to endure humiliation, injury, and incarceration, to advance desegregation through non-violent means.  What is less known, is how much that courage was prepared for, practiced, and rehearsed, before it was demonstrated.

James Lawson, a Methodist minister who had been schooled in non-violent resistance, simulated and enacted scenarios for weeks in advance of the actual sit-ins.  Students were harassed, manhandled, shouted at, and shoved by white men who were part of Lawson’s training exercises.  “People don’t realize the necessity of fierce discipline and training” Lawson would say.   What is true for practicing courage is also the case with repentance.  Preparation makes a difference.

Toward the end of this week’s portion of Torah, Moses conveys, “But God did not give you a heart to know and eyes to see and ears to hear until this day” (Deut. 29:3).  What is Moses trying to teach?

Perhaps that first-hand experience cannot be immediately comprehended.  Only after the leavening of time can we fully appreciate what the Exodus and Sinai really mean.  Or maybe Moses is offering a preamble. His message will soon turn philosophical, moral, and spiritual.  Until now, the Children of Israel have been unable to receive such sentiments.  Whether digesting the past or priming the future, the message indicates that some times our faculties are more functional than they otherwise would be.

Poised to enter our season of personal renewal, it behooves us to prepare our hearts, eyes, and ears to discern their deeper meaning.  One tested and true way to ready ourselves for repentance is to rehearse it in advance.  Make time this week to visit with someone you’ve disappointed for the sake of furnishing a better future together.   This is what we ask of God.  May we prepare to receive in ways that flow from what we offer.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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