Friday, September 26, 2008

Elul 26, 5768

Do not subject me to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses and unjust accusers
have appeared against me.
Psalms 27:12

While this is not a story that I wish to go into detail at this time, in this forum, I was once denied tenure in large part due to "false witnesses and unjust accusers." Despicable lies were told and retold so often that despite any evidence to support them, they came to be believed by a number of people who were influential in recommending that I be denied tenure.

I spent many years being angry about the unjustness of this decision. I was particularly angry with one individual who knew full well that the accusations were lies, but had other reasons to want me gone, and used the lies to accomplish that.

For years, ten years to be exact, I allowed my anger with this one person to poison my life. Every year at the High Holy Days I would think about this and pray over it, and recognize that I needed to forgive this person and let go of my anger. But was unable to find a way. I knew that I needed to forgive the person who wronged me, but that I could not offer this person a simple "I forgive you." This would only anger and antagonize him, because he believed himself to be in the right and I in the wrong. To gain the repentance I needed to move on, I had to do something that was genunine and sincere, yet would not be taken as hostile or a put down, or showing off.

Finally two years ago, I found the right action to take, that would allow me to let go.

The fact was that being denied tenure was the best thing that could have happened to me. I left a college that had a poisonous atmosphere, and found a new college with a supportive culture. I left a college that talked about the importance of teaching but did not honor or reward it, and found a new college that genuinely focused on quality teaching. At my new college I had opportunities to write, to be creative, to learn entirely new forms of pedagogy that would never have come my way had I remained where I was.

So two years ago, I wrote a simple, genuine, heartfelt letter of thanks. This freed me from dwelling, over and over again on the injustice, and allowed me to face situations where he was likely to be present with equanimity, rather than avoid them. In fact, I had not thought about the whole situation for the past two years until reading today's verse brought it to mind.

The verse says "Do not subject me to the will of my foes." What I make of this, based on my own experience, is that G-d cannot make the false witnesses and unjust accusers disappear from our lives. G-d cannot prevent them from doing us certain kinds of harm. But turning to G-d and divine inspiration can free us from the corrosive affects of anger, resentment, fear and anxiety. It is the inner harm, the psychic, emotional and moral harm that our foes will upon us from which G-d can protect us.

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