If you pass me on the road, you’ll see me during the summer driving with the windows rolled down, singing along with the radio. Admittedly, a lot of the time this summer, I have been singing along to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood. This is partially because the song seems to be played on one radio station or another every couple of minutes, and partially because this is Taylor Swift’s latest summer anthem. After all, this isn’t the first time the Pop Elul Project has highlighted Swift’s songs. Last summer, we highlighted the important lesson she teaches in her Shake It Off single, in which she reminds us all to not be bothered by what others say about us or think about us.
This year’s summer anthem Bad Blood, teaches us something different. Another break-up ballad about a relationship gone sour, Swift focuses on the bad blood that now between her and another. Now, she can no longer trust her former significant other.
Yet, her lyrics speak more deeply about how difficult it is for us to let go and forgive. During these Days of Awe, we seek out those that we have wronged and ask for forgiveness. We admit our mistakes and apologize to all those we have wronged, believing that the only way to change is through teshuvah. The only way to be a better version of ourselves is to acknowledge our previous wrongdoings. However, asking for forgiveness is the easy part. We know we have done wrong. We know we want to do better. By admitting our mistakes, we are letting go of the weight on our shoulders, the knot in our stomachs. It is much harder, as the victim, as the one who has been hurt and wronged, to be willing to forgive. It is easier for us to stay angry. It is easier for us to hold a grudge. It is harder to give someone a second chance and a clean slate.
Swift’s hit single says exactly that. She is unable to forgive. She is unable to accept an apology and move on. She sings:
Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes
You say sorry just for show
You live like that, you live with ghosts.
Sometimes though, the opposite of her lyrics are true. Sometimes, we don’t forgive, just for show. Sometimes, we still love the person that wronged us – a family member or friend – but feel like we can’t forgive them. We have to stay strong in our efforts to reject their apologies. Yet, when we live like that, we are the ones living with ghosts. We are the ones stuck in the past.
By apologizing, by doing teshuvah, we – those who have made mistakes and have done wrong to others – have moved on. But by refusing to forgive – by holding a grudge – we refuse to move on. We hang on to the past and while others are changing and striving to be better, we are stuck in neutral.
The Hebrew month of Elul leading up to the Jewish New Year is about change. We need to let go of what we have done wrong in the past, but more importantly, we also need to be willing to let go of what has been done to us as well. We can’t truly move on and give ourselves a much needed fresh start until we are prepared to do so.
“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift, featuring Kendrick Lamar, is a single off of Swift’s “1989” album. The music video broke Vevo’s 24-hour viewing period record and received seven MTV Video Music Award nominations.
For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.
-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky
I enjoy certain reality television shows. I appreciate singing contests (think, American Idol or The Voice) as well as the idealized happily ever after fairy tales (I’m a sucker for The Bachelor.) However, I have no patience for the bulk of reality television. From any Kardashian show to all of the Real Housewives series to anything involving Honey Boo Boo, these shows allow us to peek into another’s life for our own entertainment. The high points and low points, the humor, the stupidity, and the fighting (and there is a whole lot of fighting) are in front of cameras for the world to see. It is embarrassing that we use the challenges of others’ lives (even if some claim that certain situations are fabricated) as a form of entertainment. Maybe it makes us forget about the challenges that we are facing in our own lives. Maybe we all just need to shut off the world for a while and watch mindless entertainment. There is no doubt that reality television is successful. Bravo’s TV lineup is made up of Real Housewives series consisting of women from Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, Beverly Hills, Miami, and New Jersey.
Despite my greatest efforts to ignore this form of entertainment, I constantly find myself sitting on the couch next to my wife, losing the remote control war, and watching these shows. I have to admit though, out of all these shows that I am “forced” to watch, I have a soft spot for The Real Housewives of New Jersey, being from the Garden State. Now that I watch it semi-regularly with my wife, I have to stop every couple of minutes to ask questions about what is going on. All that I can gather between the fighting, yelling, and crying, is that families fight, yell, and cry. That pretty much sums up the entire series.
The many culprits of the yelling and fighting in The Real Housewives of New Jersey are members of the Gorga family: Melissa Gorga (married to Joe Gorga) and her sister-in-law Teresa Gorga Giudice. Joe and Teresa used to be close when they were younger and Teresa, as the older sibling, felt like she had to look after for Joe like his parent. Teresa spread rumors about Melissa’s past careers and past lives before she was married to Joe and apparently never thought Melissa was good enough for her family. As a result, the extended family avoided each other, rarely spending time together, even preventing their children from seeing their cousins. Teresa’s daughter Gia even cried a couple of seasons ago while singing a song at her cousins birthday party about how their parents’ fight was tearing the family apart. The family feud came to a tipping point in a recent episode when, at a conflict resolution family retreat, Joe Giudice (Teresa’s husband) demands that Joe Gorga (Teresa’s brother) apologize for upsetting her. Gorga responds by physically assaulting him. The hatred, angst, disgust, and rage reached a whole new level.
At a certain point though, holding a grudge is harder than asking for forgiveness. Holding a grudge is harder than forgiving. However, we are stubborn individuals and sometimes prefer the more difficult route. We prefer to hold grudges. We prefer to stay angry. We prefer to let the rage inside us boil. Forgiveness is healthy, but forgiveness is rare. It was only in a just-aired episode, five seasons into the reality series, that Teresa (and her brother) attempted to bury the hatchet. Teresa apologized to her brother saying, “we’re both family, we want to be together” while telling him that she will change her ways and desires to make it work with her sister-in-law as well.
It took five seasons of screaming to say “I’m sorry.” I am sure there will be plenty of rumors and screaming and fighting in future seasons. After all, that is why most watch these series. However, I am sure that every reality television fan is thinking, “If Teresa can apologize, why can’t I?”
Unfortunately, too many of our families are like the Gorga family. Someone says something to upset someone else and rumors spread. Accusations are made, screams are heard, and people storm out. Years pass and family members don’t talk to each other. If there is something that we can learn from this show (and I admit as someone who watches “under protest” that there isn’t much to learn from it) it is that it is never too late to ask for forgiveness. Most importantly, it is never too late to forgive. Let us spend the month of Elul rebuilding bridges. Let us be brave enough to ask for forgiveness and courageous enough to admit that we have made mistakes as well. After all, forgiveness and a clean slate is much preferred to screaming of reality TV.
Please Note: The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs on Bravo on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM EST. The show is rated TV-14 for language and excessive drinking.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
I joined tens of thousands of screaming teenage girls when I went to see Justin Bieber in concert this week (yeah, yeah, keep your comments to yourself) at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Following Cody Simpson opening the show, Bieber performed his top hit singles for roughly ninety minutes, including singing some of his most popular teen heartthrob anthems including Beauty and the Beat and One Less Lonely Girl, with an encore of Baby. The “Biebs” flew on stage with golden wings (I couldn’t make this up if I tried) and asked for constant reminders from the audience about how great he is. We expect performers to be comfortable and confident in themselves. Sometimes, when they are too confident, they are destined to make mistakes.
Bieber was recently in the news, but not for his tour or appearance on Florida’s First Coast. Paparazzi posted a video on the internet (originally posted on TMZ.com) of Bieber leaving a New York City nightclub with friends. Exiting through the kitchen entrance to avoid large crowds and clearly intoxicated, he paused to urinate in a mop bucket. The pop star then sprayed liquid cleaning solution on a picture of former President Bill Clinton before cursing at him on video.
Social media was up in arms. How could the teen singer curse off the former Commander in Chief and leader of the free world?! This wasn’t the first time that Bieber has erred recently. Some fear that he will end up down the same path of the Lindsay Lohans of this world. We forget though that Justin Bieber is only nineteen years old. He is still a kid. Of course he is going to make mistakes. Unfortunately, like all celebrities, every little mistake gets tweeted and posted on Facebook. Any Bieber incident becomes breaking news.
Only days later, Bieber called President Clinton to apologize. I’m not sure what is more surprising: that the pop star called Clinton following an internet video or that the former President took the call. Either way, Bill Clinton accepted his apology. According to E!, Clinton accepted Bieber’s apology, saying: “If that is the worst thing you have ever done, all is well.”
Judaism teaches that during Elul we approach those that we have wronged and ask for forgiveness. We approach them three times asking for forgiveness. If they refuse, then that is on them, not us. However, this also teaches us that we cannot only focus on the act of teshuvah as asking for forgiveness. Rather, we must also be willing to forgive those that have hurt us. In the world that we live in with such darkness, why hold a grudge? If Clinton can do it, why can’t we?
Let us pray for forgiveness. Let us ask for forgiveness. Most importantly, let us have the courage to forgive those have harmed us. This way, we (and they) can have a clean slate.
Please note: Justin Bieber is the first artist to have seven songs from his debut album (“My World”) land on the Billboard Top 100 chart. He followed “My World” with the album “Believe” and the documentary film “Never Say Never.”
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky