The Day of Atonement

September 27th, 20014

The holiest day of the Jewish year is coming up at the end of next week– Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement.

Being the lapsed (or not-really-started-right-in-the-first-place) Jew that I am, I go to Wikipedia for an explanation:
“According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.” …(and, I presume other human beings).

The word explains itself. We are all connected–human with human and human with God (whatever your concept of God is–and providing you have one): Atonement, At-One-Ment.
We and, I guess, God, assume that, in the course of a year, one falls away from other people and from God–by the exigent cross-currents of life and the swirling emotional and intellectual confusion that bedevils us every day. So during these holy days, and especially on Yom Kippur, those of us who feel the need, are called on to seek at-one-ment with other people we’ve pushed away by our behavior–and at-one-ment with God.

You could be in the position of seeking forgiveness from somebody or being asked for forgiveness–probably both.
The word “sin” is commonly used. So lets say sin, during these several days, means the alienation (both deliberate and accidental) of other people. If you sincerely regret this and want to repair the breech, you go and ask for forgiveness. (If you’re not sincere, forget about it–because people–and God–will know it).
And if you have been alienated, you may be asked for forgiveness. If you can truly forgive, you are doing a great deed, considering how hard we all know it is to go to someone else and ask their pardon for bad conduct.
What I’ve heard is that if you go to someone with sincerity in your heart and they won’t forgive you, then you try again. If they won’t forgive you a second time, you try a third time. If, after that, you aren’t forgiven, then you have done your job and the books are cleared for the next year.

I always take it for granted, and I don’t know if this is part of the actual ritual and meaning, or just my take on things, that you can’t just go and say “I’m sorry”–  You have to mean it when you say it and even more… you have to have the intention of NOT repeating the same behavior again and again.
So you see how hard it is. Think of your own life. How many times have you said you’re sorry or asked for forgiveness, then, not too much later, committed the same “sin” again?

It’s been my experience with most people, including myself, that they consider themselves to be more sinned against than sinning–hard to see your own faults but easier to see others.
I think (and, sadly, I’m an expert on this) it’s easy for some of us to hold a grudge, to cherish a resentment, than to let it go out of your heart and move on. It becomes a whole way of life–keeping anger inside and guarding it like some precious jewel. How great a feeling it can be when you can finally forgive someone–no matter what the crime. It takes a burden off them, but even more importantly, it takes the shackles off your soul.
I’m still working on that.

I have my list of people to ask forgiveness of–and it’s up to me to determine how sincere I am before I do it.
(and for me, again, part of this sincerity is my inner pledge not keep repeating the bad behavior). I don’t know anybody who’s around now that will be coming to me and apologizing. I fear the ledger is pretty have on my side when it comes to “sinning.”

Of course, for some people, the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Think how often you forgive the same “sin” in others that you find unforgivable in your own mind.

Anyway… according to the Jewish holy days, this is the time when the books are open and we are given a chance to clear the accounts, though I’m sure that if you’re ready to be forgiven or to forgive during some other part of the year, God will accept your application for special opening of the account book. What kind of God gives you only a few days of the year to do the right thing?

My first request for forgiveness is asked of any knowledgeable and religious Jews who I have offended by misunderstanding the holiday. And my first act of forgiveness (this is a pre-request special) goes out to anyone who doesn’t listen to my radio shows. I used to be offended if the whole world wasn’t listening to every word I uttered. Now, on my hesitating journey through the portals of awareness, I have gained at least some degree of humility about that.

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