Long ago, as a newcomer to the Capital Region, I noticed a recipe in, I believe, the Times Union. The recipe was for a root vegetable stew for Rosh Hashanah. I tried it. It was delicious. And in a way, it was magical.

Many years later, that recipe became an inspiration.

I was multitasking: simultaneously preparing the vegetable stew and contemplating a lesson for one of my English-as-a-second-language students.

"Root vegetables," I thought, as I chopped carrots and turnips. "How similar 'root' is to 'rude.' Root. Rude. How easy they are to confuse."

Words. Power. Magic. How well we know the power of words. How a simple word or statement -- the wrong word or even the right word said (or heard) the wrong way --- can lead to a misunderstanding, conflict, rifts within a family or community.

Sometimes, words get out of control. They spiral and take on a life of their own. Sometimes, we say things we don't mean. Sometimes, we mean things we don't say. Sometimes, there's a cultural gap in communications -- an inability to make ourselves clear because we -- or our listeners -- speak different languages or understand things different ways.

In my children's book, "Talia and the Rude Vegetables," Talia is a city child who misunderstands her country grandmother's request to gather root vegetables. Instead, Talia goes to the garden in search of rude vegetables.

As she digs for the seven vegetables her grandmother requested, Talia ponders what makes a vegetable rude. Does it talk back to its mother and father? Does it push its brothers and sisters around? Talia remembers that she, too, has been rude and that the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah is coming.

Rosh Hashanah is coming, Talia says, I must ask their forgiveness.

As a child, Talia sees clearly what we, adults, often miss. Talia knows she has been wrong and must ask forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah is coming.

The Jewish New Year, which begins Wednesday, is a time of introspection, a time to account for our actions and inactions, deeds and misdeeds. It is a time to reflect on occasions in which we, as simple, clumsy humans have "missed the mark" and have -- on purpose or inadvertently -- insulted, harmed, degraded, denounced, attacked, frustrated, annoyed, irritated, called names, inflamed, defamed, or humiliated other human beings.

It is a time to act, to ask forgiveness and to do so in a timely manner because very soon, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will come. And at the end of Yom Kippur, that heavenly Book of Life in which "who shall live and who shall die" is inscribed, will be closed for the year. Should that book should closed without reconciliation having been made, it stays closed.

History is filled with stories of people who died holding grudges. We know families that, because of words misspoken or deeds done or not done, have broken apart, leaving siblings -- and the generations that follow -- unknown to each other. One might wonder if that is what happened with the children of Abraham. One might wonder if Hagar and Sarah had spoken kindly to each other, cuddled each other's offspring, perhaps there would be more happiness in the world.

According to my understanding of Jewish tradition, there are three types of sins, or ways we have "missed the mark." Those sins are between a person and himself/herself, between a person and God, and between a person and other people. One may pray for forgiveness for misdeeds for the first two types. But forgiveness for the third type -- for misdeeds between a person and other people -- is different. That type of forgiveness requires direct communication.

As Talia states, I must ask their forgiveness.

Difficult as it is, we must ask their forgiveness, face-to-face, person-to-person, human-to-human.

Then once that forgiveness is asked -- and, we hope, granted -- we can enjoy a sweet beginning to the new year. A year, we hope, of joy, health, happiness, generosity, productivity and kindness.

Marshall lives in Selkirk. A former bookstore owner, she now teaches ESL to adults. "Talia and the Rude Vegetables" was published this month by Kar-Ben, a division of Lerner Publications.

Rudeness gives root to forgiving


Originally Published at TimesUnion.com 12:00 a.m., Saturday, September 24, 2011


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