Yom Kippur is here?The Day of Atonement for Jews who observe (and for most who don?t think they observe but really do).
It is a day?and I?m always open to correction on subjects I know little about?when Jews reconcile themselves with their God.
One tends to drift away from God during the course of a year?how could we not?being only poor defective human creations of an all-perfect being.
Where does it say?in which part of the bible?that God made man ?in his image.?? Well, if that?s the case, it seems like a pretty lousy deal for poor ?man??humankind. You get the form but not the substance. You get the resemblance to the father/mother/parent who created you, but not their strength, their will, and their infinite mercy?among other qualities.
Well, anyway, we drift away from God and we are given, each year, this brief time to realize our departure from God, and attempt, by sacrifice, fasting, prayer and repentance to reunite?to Atone. Atonement being, in fact, At-one-ment?to be, once again, ?at one? with God.
But speaking of Godlike qualities, the one that comes into play on Yom Kippur?more than the others?is infinite mercy. Because it is not just God with whom one has to reconcile themselves, it is also, one?s fellow creatures.
God is supposed to be infinitely forgiving; and, called upon with a sincere and repentant heart, will certainly forgive?whoever and whatever. The German poet Heine, when asked on his deathbed whether he should ask God forgiveness for his sins, is reputed to have said: ?God will forgive, that?s his business.? Well that?s a little flip, and maybe Heine didn?t get forgiven, but you know what, I?m guessing he did? What parent, seeing the suffering of his child, no matter how unrepentant or disrespectful, would not forgive?
But much, much harder than securing the forgiveness and blessing of God the Father/Mother is securing the blessing and forgiveness of other people.
We are not possessed of eternal wisdom and infinite mercy. We are, or can often be, petty, selfish and unforgiving (I know I am). We imagine that all our woes are caused by others. Indeed, some of us (and I know whereof I speak here) spend our lives demanding retribution for the crimes, real or perceived, that were committed against us.
On Yom Kippur, according to my source, a very well educated orthodox Rabbi, one goes about asking for forgiveness in the following manner: Truly repenting of the sin/crime you have committed against a fellow creature, you go to them and ask them to forgive you. If you are lucky and they are in a forgiving mood, you are forgiven (to what extent, only the forgiver knows in their heart). If they don?t forgive you, you go and ask again. If still turned away, you try one more time.
If, after the third attempt at receiving forgiveness, you are spurned, then you have done all you can do and are free of the bond, of the debt (this is presuming its something intangible we are talking about here?but such things are generally, or can be, the worst and most enduring of crimes).
And, conversely, if someone comes to you and asks your forgiveness truly, you have three chances to unharden your heart and forgive them?and thus, you are free of your burden too?the burden of anger, hatred, vengeance, hurt pride.
It seems to me that I have carried both of these burdens?that I have been the unforgiving and the unforgiven for most of my life; in fact?right up until this very minute.
Without going into detail (which my long-time listeners and readers have heard before), I got a very raw deal from my parents when I was a kid?and even right up until the moment of both of their untimely deaths, I kept getting a raw deal.
And one of the worst parts of this crummy deal was being told that I was the cause, the reason, for all the bad treatment I received as a child and young adult. I was given to understand, sometimes subtly, sometimes directly, that I was responsible for the mass of grief and suffering my parents had to go through. I still believe this.
But, such an irrational situation is absurd. Part of me knows that I was essentially blameless for the sufferings of my parents. However, down deep, I really don?t understand this?and still feel?at bottom, an overwhelming sense of guilt about my parents. So I have both, a great sense?no matter how undeserved?of guilt and need to be forgiven, AND a deep, abiding and massive rage against such unfair treatment?including, of course, being made to feel guilty about my alleged crimes.
I have?to the absolute detriment of every other part of my life?nourished and cherished this hatred, vengeance and unforgiving implacability against my parents for almost sixty years?just as I have carried the false guilt all this time.
In fact, I have two burdens to carry?and to try to set down?this Yom Kippur (and every other day in the calendar): How do I forgive myself and how do I forgive my parents?after all this time? Because, though it seems a sort of self-help truism by now, I know in my heart that if I don?t set these burdens down, life will just be a pale imitation of what it could really be.
So, that?s my question for myself, and, perhaps, if it seems familiar, to you, on this day of atonement.
You can reconcile yourself with God, and you can try to reconcile yourself with other people, but how do you reconcile yourself with and to yourself?
Because, to live, to actually exist and have life mean anything, you must forgive yourself and you must forgive others.
Vengeance, hatred, rage, the enduring hurt of unjust behavior? is a fire that keeps re-igniting itself until it consumes you.
The only real things remaining are sadness and forgiveness. Sadness and forgiveness? And we pray for them to come into our hearts.
– Mike Feder (New York City – September 23, 2004)