(Days of) Awe Inspiring

The Jewish calendar resembles a jigsaw puzzle more than it does a collage. Holy days do not stand alone, but are linked to other dates in the calendar so that we are constantly being propelled to the next notable date while still retaining fumes from the previous one. Even this chock-filled time of year with Rosh HaShana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Simhat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) doesn’t spring up in isolation, but is connected to an earlier summer date of tragedy that is strongly linked to a lack of brotherly love among the Jewish people. Indeed, as we head to the Day of Atonement which falls next Wednesday, we are reminded that God does not forgive sins between man and man; those we need to take care of directly with the injured parties.

If we are tuned into the power of this time of year when all mankind is judged, our sensitivities are heightened. This gave even greater power than usual to the news story I saw this morning. You can read the details yourself, but here is a brief synopsis. Just over a year ago, in a terrible tragedy, off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her neighbor Botham Jean when, according to her,  she mistakenly entered his apartment instead of her own and shot him, thinking he was an intruder who threatened her.

I did not follow the details of the trial, but at the end of it, after she was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison, the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean said, “If you are truly sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you,” and then asked for permission to hug his brother’s murderer. That act of grace and compassion took my breath away.

There are so many elements of the killing and what followed it that can and should be discussed in the larger picture of our judicial system, our police, racial tension and other matters. The judge’s actions after the trial, too, when she also gave Amber Guyger a hug along with a Bible, provide an opening for discussion. This exchange of ideas should not be the domain of internet trolls and angry, vulgar diatribes, but of actual meaningful conversations. As worthy as those conversations are, I am not going to discuss those matters here.

I simply want to say that in a society that sometimes seems to be full of incitement towards hatred from so many different avenues, Brandt Jean’s words and actions stand as a beacon of light. During this unique time of year, a period known as the Days of Awe, each of us who tries to maximize our opportunity is aware of not only needing to ask forgiveness from those we have harmed but also of being in the position of granting forgiveness to those who have harmed us. In doing so, we are reminded that God judges us as we judge others. If we are quick to assume error rather than ill-will on the part of others, God will lean towards leniency when assessing our own actions towards Him. If we show compassion to others; God will similarly show compassion to us.

There are hurts that go deep beneath the surface and losing a beloved brother ranks high on that list. Mr. Jean’s largeness of spirit, fueled by his Christian beliefs, challenges us all to become greater people able to relate to others soul to soul. He is probably unaware of how the timing of his beneficence coincides with this period in the Jewish calendar when God judges all mankind, but for me and others the power of his lesson is truly magnified at this time.

P.S. Writing and speaking in public, as I do, is scary. Not only are mistakes “out there” even when later corrected, but each reader comes with his or her own perspective. At this time, I do ask forgiveness if something I wrote or said over the course of this year caused pain to any of you.  


35 thoughts on “(Days of) Awe Inspiring”

  1. Another wonderful spiritual uplift wrapped in wise instruction… isn’t that like a proverb? I could say so much more about how I’m always blessed to have found you!!!
    Thank you Rabbi and Susan Lapin 🙏

  2. Rabbi D & S Lapin, you are loved beyond words by me. Thank you for all of your amazing work. Since I am sure we will spend eternity together- because The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel- is “God of the Living” – I anticipate the day when we will meet and I will get to show my appreciation for all you have taught me. Your unity in marriage and in teaching biblical principles as you model marriage have strengthened my own marriage. As I consider repentance, even though I have never met you, I want to repent of not supporting your ministry financially through investing in enough of your resources. I spend hours at night listening to your teachings and am lifted up and am supported by you. And, I fail to support you! Please forgive me. You are deserving of all of my love and support- more than you may ever know!!!

    1. Zoe, we deeply appreciate those who buy our resources and support our work at the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, but doing so is not a quid pro quo for our teaching. We understand that everyone is tugged financially and time-wise in so many directions and while we are grateful for those who help us keep going through their financial support we are blessed to pay a role in your life.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing Zoe–
      I don’t think not supporting our ministry is reason for repentance. What you are feeling is the soul-corroding effect that getting something for nothing produces. That you feel it is a testament to your sensitivity. Another thing to bear in mind is that both charitable donations to the American Alliance of Jews and Christians and investment purchases in life enhancing products available at our store on this website produce a return. In any event, as Susan Lapin emphasized, there is no anticipated quid pro quo. We appreciate your support and are uplifted by it but we also take great pleasure in your gaining insight, understanding, and life-transforming principles from our work regardless of whether you bless us back in return. Thanks for being part of our ministry.

  3. Another excellent and soulful Musing. Your thoughts are most interesting, and this one was particularly deep and caring. Two thoughts on my part:
    1) No reason whatsoever to apologize if someone is “hurt” by them. It simply is a key for the person to think more deeply about what you said.
    2) Wouldn’t it be something if a prisoner received a Bible (or the Book of his/her faith–and they will have one) when he or she went to jail?!

    1. Mike, it is actually possible to regret hurting someone while also believing you did the right thing. For example, you can apologize for giving someone a bitter medicine while knowing that you are right to do so. Apologizing doesn’t mean agreeing you did something wrong – just, like many of our actions since the Garden of Eden, not 100% positive.
      I think faith in prisons would be a huge help.

  4. Like you, Susan, I did not follow all the details of the Amber Guyger trial, but to the extent I did I never heard an explanation of something I keep wondering about. That is, I can imagine, especially if one were tired or distracted, how it would be possible to go to the wrong apartment, especially if it was one of the more recent, large sort of buildings where all the apartments look very much alike. What I don’t understand is how she ENTERED the wrong apartment. Wouldn’t she have realized her mistake when her key wouldn’t open the door? If that happened to me I’d be confused at first, then I’d probably see that the apartment number on the door wasn’t mine and realize my mistake. There must be an explanation of what happened, but I’ve not seen or read anything about it, not in any of the stories I’ve read. Have you? It’s a reasonable question, isn’t it? Well, it’s not the first time that journalism has let me down.

    I have watched the video of the encounter between Ms. Guyger and the victim’s brother, and also the one with the judge. They were so unexpected and moving that by the end of them I had tears in my eyes. This is the kind of thing that makes our country still shine brightly.

    Finally, of the many Musings of yours I have read, I have often been informed, inspired, and provoked into thinking more about something than I might have done otherwise, but NEVER have I read anything of yours that I found troubling or painful.

    1. Mark, I’m sure your question was answered somewhere. I think I read that there was a flaw in the lock and her key worked. I don’t think anyone suggested she broke in or had trouble getting in.
      Thanks for your kind words.

  5. You lift my spirits and embolden my heart. I feel the same as you about Brandt Jean’s expression of forgiveness and that of the judge, whatever she was expressing to the woman. I can’t feel her pain, but can imagine her shame. I pray for her at Mass daily.
    Perhaps the Pope could use some of your basic philosophy; I’m hoping there is a change in the Vatican.

  6. Susan I’m always inspired by the way the Rabbi and yourself live such a God centered life and showing His love, through the way you deal with all of us.

    1. We try, Mark, we sometimes succeed and sometimes fail and we try again. As we all should.

  7. Thank you for reminding us this day about how important grace is in reference to our fellow man. Bob

  8. Susan thank you for your meaningful perspective. While I saw the video several times, I did not see the giving of a Bible. I think this act and the lack of media coverage speaks volumes in many ways.

    1. Michael, I believe the judge is under a legal attack for having given the Bible. As I hinted at in the Musing, leaving vitriol aside, I think what she did was a beautiful thing and I also can hear someone having an honest concern about her doing so while in the courtroom and in her legal robes. I, of course, think our nation would be better off if all prisoners read the Bible, but her actions could lead to a far-reaching and fascinating discussion.

      1. Yes, the judge came under attack by that atheist group out of Minnesota, not locally. Many locals were shaken and in/near tears because the event was carried live on the local stations. The judge hugged the Jean family and after they left the courtroom, she hugged Amber and start talking to her. You could tell from her lawyers’ body language they were shocked. It was reported that the judge told Amber that Brandt Jean had forgiven her and now she was going to have to forgive herself.

        It was reported that Amber told the judge she did not have a Bible or her Bible and that is when the judge went back into her chambers and gave Amber her personal Bible. She took her to John 3:16 and then told her for the next month to read the book of John. Amber left holding the judge’s Bible. The following day, the judge gave Amber’s attorney a new Bible and a bible study on the book of Romans.

        BTW, the judge teaches Bible study at her church, Concord Baptist Church.

        We are still in awe of the actions displayed in that court room but also reminded of God’s grace and mercy.

        Thank you for all of your wisdom and insight that you share with us.


        1. Thank you for sharing extra information Rhenechia. Wouldn’t we be better off as a country with more caring actions like this one?

  9. When I first heard the story of Brandt Jean, the thought that popped into my head was, What a holy man, and I imagined a wise older brother to the victim. Then I saw a picture and realized he is rather a young man (or maybe I’m just getting old!) and I prayed for a heart like that. Whatever his age, his heart is wise.

    1. When young ,our hikes were used to clear what others carelessly left. Commercials were public services announcement on care of the land. Sad to say, that too many let the next guy take care of needs. Responsiveness needs promotion towards all. Aplay on words, the promotion by doing better, for a good conscience is a raise!

      1. If everyone focused on leaving an area better off than they found it, the world would be a better place.

  10. What gracious, kind, and beautiful sentiments are wrapped up through-and-through your entire Musing! Forgiveness stops everything that the enemy wants to hurl at humanity dead in its tracks, and gives everyone renewed life, love, and a fresh chance at the future. And your humble and sincere words at the end reveal your honest, compassionate heart towards God and others. God has given unto you a wonderful opportunity through your helping Rabbi Lapin and your own writings as well, and you are faithfully seizing that opportunity and making it into a more and more fruitful venue all the time. I truly appreciate your commitment to His Ways and His Word, and the very motherly burden that you carry to anneal all who will close to the side of the Most High, and to each other as well. Best wishes during these High Holy Days, and thank you for all of (both of) your labor in teaching us!

  11. What a fine example of God’s love Brandt Jean displayed. It is impossible to know his pain, except that we experience what he has experienced. I would not wish that on anyone. But I would hope that if I was so deeply hurt by another, that I would show the same courage, love and compassion he showed toward Amber Guyger. His forgiveness has freed Amber and himself from corrosive hatred. What a blessed gift.

  12. Dear Susan and Rabbi Lapin,

    For years I lived in the Pacific Northwest and enjoyed hearing you on radio and seeing you both from time to time in the greater Puget Sound area. I am gladly receiving your emails. This one in particular touched me deeply. I do not watch TV or hang out online for days at a time. My life only briefly intersects with the outside world and sometimes the pain is just too much. I am approaching the 34 year anniversary of the day my family’s life changed forever. I try not to keep record, but the body and the soul have their own scars that remind us…. sleep is disturbed, thoughts hit like missiles and drive the pain even deeper. Forgiving others and being forgiven by others is very necessary for our spiritual health. Forgetting is the real task. The Bible says that God removes our sins as far as the East is from the West, and though they are scarlet, he makes them whiter than snow. All He requires is honesty from the heart and willingness to humble ourselves under His mighty (but loving) hand. Atonement has been made – sacrifice has been offered. Making amends is about living in harmony with our brothers and sisters on this tiny wee planet. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your words of healing.

    1. Kathy, I was humbled by Brandt Jean’s words and actions and I am also humbled by yours. May you find peace and strength.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Kathy
      Sliding back mentally to our days in the Pacific Northwest brings peace and tranquility to our turbulent lives and I hope doing so does the same for you.

  13. As for my family. We love and respect you and your husband. Even the best of friends sometimes have squabbles, but at the end of the day we choose to still be friends. Or in lay man’s terms. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    With love,

    Mrs. Cleveland

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you for your gracious note, Mrs. Cleveland,
      Susan and I deeply appreciate your friendship.

  14. I truly admire, appreciate and respect your closing comment. It certainly causes me to pause, and reflect as to whether I may need to request the same of others in my own professional (and personal) life

    1. David, on one hand a mass apology is too broad and too easy, but when it comes to public statements and actions, there is just no way to know where to direct anything more personally.

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