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Choosing good

Fri, 08/16/2013 - 12:00am -- Rabbi

In the Talmud (Berachot 10a), the story is told of Rabbi Meir, who was constantly harassed by thieves, so much so that he prayed for them to die.  His wife, Beruriah, said to him, "What are you thinking of?!  Are you relying on the verse 'Let sinners be consumed' (Psalm 104:35)?  But does the psalm really mean 'sinners?'  Instead, you should understand it as 'Let sins be consumed.' What is more, you should look at the end of the verse: 'And let the wicked be no more,' which implies that when sins come to an end, then the wicked will be wicked no more.  Instead of praying for these people to die, you should pray that they repent so that they will be wicked no more."  Rabbi Meir took Beruriah's advice and prayed for the thieves, and they did in fact turn in repentance and were wicked no more. 

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We sometimes speak of good and evil as qualities of human beings, as if people themselves could be good or bad.  Jewish tradition, by contrast, insists that every person has the potential for both good and evil action. The important thing is the choice that each of us makes; that is the standard by which we can be judged, both by other people and by God.  While we are responsible for the choices we have made in the past, we also have the immense power to make different choices in the year that is coming.  Using that power to lay our course in a slightly different direction and to change the pattern of our choices in the future is what repentance is all about.