Many years ago, the director of my Sunday school once came to me with a problem. A girl in the third grade class felt isolated from all her peers. They ostracized her. She left each day crying.
I did a little investigating and learned the reason. Back in kindergarten, this girl had poked another girl with a pencil. It was a hard poke. But nothing too serious. She apologized and the class moved on.
It turns out, however, that the mother of the poked girl remained angry. She badmouthed the other girl to moms in the class. She refused to speak to the mom of the girl who poked her daughter.
That led the other kids to ostracize the girl, and they continued to do so even after four years had passed. That's why she was miserable in religious school.
I brought the parents in. After some initial denial, we got to heart of the problem. I shared with them a text from our Torah. It may seem obscure, but the message bristles with importance.
First, some background. Ritual sacrifice was the original form of prayer. (I explain how and why this changed in chapter 3 of What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Jewishness of Jesus, which is for sale on Amazon at the lowest price I have seen yet!)
The sacrifice took place on an alter. Before each sacrifice, the priests had to clear the ashes from the altar and carry them outside the Temple. (Leviticus 6:8)
Why did the priests need to clear away the ashes? Because a flame burns brighter when there are no ashes underneath.
The same is true with our lives. They shine more brightly when the ashes—the residue of the past that sticks incessantly to us—is cleared away.
This may sound like a simple message, but it is not so easily learned. How many of us remember slights and grudges more clearly than words of love and appreciation?
Yet, if we dwell on the ashes, we miss the beauty of the light. If we continue to hold grudges and think of the regrets instead of the opportunities, we overlook the presence of the blessings.
Life doesn't give us enough time for both.