What's your favorite color? Your favorite food? How about your favorite wine? I've always found those questions to be hard to answer. Sometimes I like blue, and sometimes red. Sometimes sushi, sometimes bagels. Who is always in the mood of the same thing? As for wine, I'll leave that for the connoisseurs.

But how about the more important stuff? What is the most important relationship, the most important time to spend with family, or the most important part of Judaism?

When it comes to Judaism, we usually think of monotheism, Shabbat and holidays. Those are, of course, of paramount importance.

But there's a small two-paragraph prayer that you've probably never heard of, that I'd say is the most important paragraph in all of Judaism. It's a paragraph that is said every day, or more precisely every evening, right before going to bed. It begins with the words 'Ribono shel olam', master of the universe. It is such a meaningful prayer, that I'm going to quote the entire thing:

'Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or vexed me, or sinned against me, either physically or financially, against my honor, or anything else that is mine, whether accidentally or intentionally, inadvertently or deliberately, by speech or by deed, in this incarnation or in any other - any Israelite; may no man be punished on my account.

May it be your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, that I shall sin no more, nor repeat my sins; neither shall I again anger you, nor do what is wrong in your eyes. The sins that I have committed, erase in your abounding mercies, but not through suffering or severe illness. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before you, Lord, my strength and redeemer.' (End quote)

What a beautiful prayer; a beautiful way of life.

Notice the theme of the first paragraph, and then the second. The first is one of unhindered humility and forgiveness. Imagine, someone that very day physically or financially harmed me, or insulted me - deliberately! Perhaps one day I should forgive them - but that very evening?! While the paragraph is one of forgiveness, it is also one of acknowledgement. We acknowledge the fact that another person did something wrong to us - we allow ourselves to blow off some steam - and then forgive and forget.

The second paragraph then moves right along to what I may have done wrong, and asks God to help me correct my ways and become a better person; 'that I shall sin no more, nor repeat my sins'. This paragraph reminds us that when it comes to leading a happy, productive life, there's only one person in control, and one person whose actions we can improve: ourselves.

This is Judaism in a nutshell: we always strive for better, yet allow ourselves to acknowledge, and appreciate, our finite human character, flaws, ego and all. For it is that very, sometimes flawed, human character that allows us to truly call our achievements and self-improvement our own. But when it comes to action, to deciding how our time can best be used, it is always in searching for ways to become better people ourselves and improve our deeds.

So as we approach the end of 2018, let's recommit ourselves to making sure that we are the best person we can be, because, to quote the Talmud, if I am not going to be my best self, who will be?

Shabbat Shalom, have a wonderful week

Rabbi Avrohom