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 resisted watching Pretty Little Liars for as long as I could. I resisted it partially because it was on ABC Family and I assumed that the quality of the show rivaled the likes of fellow ABC Family seriesThe Secret Life of The American Teenager and a 10 Things I Hate About You television spin-off. I resisted because I suspected that the quality of acting was not up to par. Truthfully though, I resisted because the premise sounded like a cross between Desperate Housewives, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Gossip Girl with a pinch of Mean Girls. Yet, ABC Family kept renewing the series. This summer’s episodes are a part of its fourth season with the fifth season already filming. ABC Family has also announced a spin-off, Ravenswood, to premiere in October later this year. With the increase in episodes and viewership, I finally gave in.
The show, based on the teen novels of the same name, follows four teenage girls part of a clique that is lost without their ring leader. The queen bee, Alison DiLaurentis (played by Sasha Pieterse,) disappears and as time passes by, the four other girls begin receiving mysterious messages from someone named “A” who threatens to expose their secrets. The girls originally think “A” is Alison as she is the only one who knows their secrets. However, when [Spoiler Alert] Alison’s body is found, they are concerned that someone else knows about their wrongdoings. The series focuses on their attempts to find out what happened to Alison, but more importantly for them, to find out who the true identity of “A.”
The whole show’s concept is based on the idea that a group of girls did something wrong, knew that they did wrong and didn’t want to get caught for doing wrong. Thus, instead of coming clean, they go to greater trouble keeping their wrongdoings a secret than presumably the trouble of the wrongdoing in the first place. If they never did wrong, maybe there would be no storyline. Obviously this is unrealistic to expect, not just from a Hollywood script, but also from real life. No one is perfect. We all are bound to make mistakes. The High Holy Days are exactly for this purpose. We have opportunities for atonement and repentance specifically meant to guide us — and push us — to admit those secrets within us. The Hebrew calendar is set up so that we start off the year by admitting our secrets, by exposing our lies and telling the truth, by admitting what we have done wrong. MIstakes are a part of life.
The error in these four girls’ ways is not the mistake. The error is the attempt after attempt to keep their secrets and hide their mistakes at all costs. Their error is in refusing to tell the truth. Lying is a slippery slope. One small lie often developments into a mound of dishonesty and deception. When we lie, our stomach ties in knots. The more lies, the worse we feel. Eventually, this mound of lies builds up and we create an alternative reality and an alternative self. We don’t even recognize ourselves anymore. In order to admit our mistakes, we have to admit that we have made mistakes. We have to come clean instead of trying to cover up.
Let us take advantage of the month of Elul to come clean to others and to ourselves. Part of this process of Teshuvah, repentance, means letting go of the lies. The New Year begins with truth, truth in who we are and who we are not, truth in what we have done and become, and truth in who we want to be. Truth allows us to appreciate ourselves, even with bumps in the road along the way. During the month of Elul, let us pledge to stop with the lies because lies only lead to greater lies and let’s be honest, there is nothing pretty about a little liar.
Please Note: “Pretty Little Liars” is on ABC Family on Tuesday evenings at 8:00 PM EST, with the Summer Finale premiering this Tuesday. The show features sporadic violence, a fair amount of language, and physical sexual encounters that stop just before the act itself. It is rated TV-14.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky