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rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


Taylor Swift as a Guide to Forgiveness

What exactly does Taylor Swift’s new single “Look What You Made Me Do” have to do with Yom Kippur? As Sara Debbie Gutfreund points out in her article, the song points out many of the obstacles that we all face, especially this time of year, on our path to forgiveness:

Taylor Swift’s newest, record-breaking single “Look What You Made Me Do” is eliciting both shock and questions from her fans and her critics. What do the dark lyrics mean? What is she trying to say?

Many critics of Swift’s vengeful-laced song are surprised by her rage and hatred of others, but Taylor’s deepest hatred is directed at herself. In one of the saddest lines of the song she writes: “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh ‘cause she’s dead.”

In some ways her new release is oddly timely. With a few weeks before Rosh Hashanah when we begin the process of asking for forgiveness from both God and people that we have wronged, Taylor's vengeful lyrics can help us explore some of the main obstacles we all face in attaining forgiveness.

We frequently overlook a crucial step in our journey toward forgiveness: forgiving ourselves. When we look back at the past we often get stuck in a bottomless pit of regret: If only I had stayed home that day. Why did I waste all that time? Why wasn’t I stronger, smarter, better? Why did I willfully ignore the damage I was causing?

Here are four obstacles in Taylor Swift’s lyrics that can teach us a powerful lesson in how we can forgive and be forgiven.

  1. “I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red underlined.”So often we keep this tally in our minds of everyone and everything that has hurt us, without even knowing that we are doing it. All the times someone ignored us. Or insulted us. Or let us down. We may think this tally somehow protects us from being hurt again, but all it really does is keep our own hearts and minds mired in negativity.

Let go of the list. Stop keeping score for your own sake. We are all imperfect and the sooner we can forgive other’s imperfections, the sooner we will have the strength to forgive our own.

  1. “…all I think about is karma. And then the world moves on, but one thing’s for sure. Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all gets yours.”Hoping others will be punished and wishing bad things for them may bring a sense of relief in the moment, but it inevitably will drag us down. We want God to forgive us despite our mistakes, but we can’t forgive others despite theirs?

Part of forgiveness means wishing the same goodness for others that you want in your own life. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. It takes more courage to wish your enemies well that it does to hope they will be given their due.

  1. “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me. I’ll be the actress, starring in your bad dreams.”When we get hurt, it is tempting to build walls around our hearts and trust no one. If we don’t trust others then they can’t hurt us again.

But if we can’t find a way to trust again, we will never find a way to love again. When we don’t trust others, we are really not trusting ourselves to be strong enough to love and be loved. Healing means building new bridges of connection, not new walls to separate us from others.

  1. “Look what you made me do.”The title of the song displays the biggest obstacle to forgiveness: blame. Blaming others for what goes wrong in our lives abdicates responsibility for our actions. At its core, it is a statement to ourselves that we are helpless and weak, that we are victims of our lives instead of creators, that we are accepting someone else’s script instead of writing our own.

No one can make us destroy ourselves. While we may not always be able to choose our circumstances, we always choose who we become. We can forgive and be forgiven. We can use our pasts, both the good and the challenging, as building blocks for the future. And we can choose to be the writers of our own stories instead of the victims in someone else’s script.

As Taylor Swift’s song spreads across the world, let’s use it as reminder of how to let go of blame, revenge and mistrust so that we can attain true forgiveness.