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Emor: Can You Change Yourself?

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Description

We are now in that seven-week period between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot (“the Festival of Weeks”). This time of “Counting the Omer” – a commandment identified in this week’s Torah portion – is marked by an intense journey of character refinement. Each of the forty-nine days of this seven-week period corresponds to one aspect of our seven emotional attributes – love, discipline, harmony, endurance, humility, bonding, and nobility – as they manifest in combination with each other (for a total of forty-nine combinations). So in the first week, we began refining the emotional attribute of love, love within love, discipline within love, harmony within love, and so forth. The second week, we worked on the seven aspects of discipline, and this week we are working on the seven dimensions of harmony.

However, this work in character development begs the question: Can we indeed do much of anything to change our personalities?

We are, after all, born with innate characteristics, which may be impossible, and definitely “unnatural,” to change. We are also creatures of habit, assuming patterns that can be very difficult to alter. Further, we see that everything in this universe doesn’t really change in any fundamental way. Minerals remain minerals, vegetables are always vegetables, and leopards do not “change their spots.” Why then should humans be different? Just as we cannot change many of our physical features, some would argue that we cannot change our emotional selves either. That is certainly the conclusion of the prevailing Darwinian-Freudian theory of man, which holds that we are just evolved beasts driven by a self-centered Id.

Based on this premise, change appears impossible. However, the Torah posits another premise – one that upsets the entire theory of an unchanging existence.

This sermon explains the viewpoint of the Torah that we can change because we are not human animals but divine humans. Illustrated with two humorous fables and one inspiring story of a hip-hop rapper.

Addendum: In this spirit, we also look at the latest spectacle of the royal wedding in England, which close to 3 billion (!) people watched across the globe. Is there anything more to this obsession than simply celebrity voyeurism?

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