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
After over twenty years, one of the most popular Young Adult science fiction novels finally made it to the big screen. The Giver was published in 1993 and in the years and decades that followed, it seemed that Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel was required reading for almost every student in the country. It became so popular as a young adult novel that many adults chose to read it as well. With the successful transition of many young adult dystopian futuristic tales to the big screen (like The Hunger Games and Divergent), The Giver seemed like a natural hit. It would have a whole generation of new fans. Those who read it in school twenty years ago would flock to the theaters as adults to see it as well!
The film of the same name, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites, was released on August 15th in theaters. However, it did not catch on with fans of the novel and was a bust. While films like The Hunger Games had huge opening weekends at the box office, The Giver only grossed $12.3 million in its opening weekend, finishing a distant fifth. Through it first month in theaters, the movie has only grossed $33 million domestically and only received a 33% rating on the fan critic website, Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie, which is only loosely based on the original source material of the book, is set in the year 2048. After war, the community got rid of colors, races, ethnicities, and feelings. Memories from before that event was erased from all citizens’ minds. Jonas (played by Thwaites) must receive those memories form the past from The Giver (played by Bridges). The Receiver of Memory is the only individual in the entire community who has these memories and as a result, must advise elders and government leaders on what decisions to make because they are equally unaware of the past.
[SPOILER ALERT] Eventually, Jonas released memories back to the community. The lessoned he learned and the community realized, is something we must hold unto as well. Just because the past is painful, that doesn’t mean we erase it. Forgetting is different than erasing. In Deuteronomy 25, a portion of the Hebrew Bible that Jewish communities throughout the world read last week, we are reminded of the terrible attack on the biblical Israelites by the people of Amalek. Scripture commands us to blot out that memory and still, not forget it.
How do we blot out the memory but not forget it? During the Hebrew month of Elul, we are encouraged to admit our mistakes, repent, and start fresh as a changed person and individual. We begin anew. In order to do that, we must let go of the past. We let go of the pain and heartache that the past has caused us and that we have previously caused others. But we do not forget. If we forget it, then we repeat the past. If we forget it, then we never change; we just end up returning back to our previous state. We remember such painful memories because they made us who we are – and who we strive to become. But we also have the courage to let go, and to begin again.
Please Note: “The Giver” starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites, was produced by Walden Media and distributed by The Weinstein Company. The movie was released in theaters on August 15, 2014 and is Rated PG-13.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky