Imperfection

What a powerful way to start the new year as we shared together in such a beautiful Rosh HaShana experience. Now is the time to carry this momentum forward as we consider the social genius of Yom Kippur which we will be living through this time next week. 

Imperfection is part and parcel of being human. In fact, an essential part of our experience is recognizing the extent to which we make mistakes. And perhaps most agonizing is the recognition and guilt of the mistakes we make in our dealings with other people. 

On the one hand, we are painfully aware of our own sensitivity. It is remarkable how easily we can be hurt or saddened by a nasty remark, cold shoulder or rejection of any kind. However, in our pride, we often struggle to admit to ourselves how profoundly hurt we have been by the actions of our friends and family. Instead of confronting and facing our feelings, we bury them deep inside. We are also acutely aware of the guilt we feel when in moments of weakness, frustration or fear we lash out in the same hurtful manner, causing similar grievance. This discomfort is often very difficult to face up to; sometimes we can spend years ignoring or maligning our friends or family, simply because we cannot admit to ourselves how deeply we have hurt them, nor express how sorry we truly are for having caused them pain. Our remorse paralyzes us to the extent that we find it almost impossible to apologize. It is indeed quite tragic that we social beings spend time either feeling angry and upset towards those who have hurt us or feeling guilt and torment towards those whom we have hurt. 

How can we attempt to overcome these blemishes and restore societal harmony? Judaism, with its uncanny perception of human nature, has come up with a brilliant response: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day, we stand in shule and declare an elaborate list of our collective failures and transgressions. In other words, we proclaim that we are all guilty in the eyes of God. 

With human error declared, on Yom Kippur, as a universal truth, it now becomes significantly easier to face up to and admit our own personal infractions, however deeply entrenched or ignored. It is a day where we recognize our flaws, and confront them with courage and absolute integrity. Only once we achieve this self-recognition are we able to address our obligation to rectify the damage that we have wrought upon others. And through this process we chip away at the resentment and pain, slowly opening ourselves to the possibility of forgiving the mistakes of our fellow beings. It is a most cathartic day, one that offers hope for renewal and improvement for every person created in the image of God. 

Just imagine if this Jewish concept went global? Imagine a scenario in which the whole of humanity takes a full day out of their calendar, refuses to indulge in food or physical pleasure, and instead focuses upon sincerely forgiving and seeking forgiveness for any harm? It may seem inconceivable, yet it is possible that Yom Kippur – when entered into with the correct preparation and genuine sincerity – can provide a blueprint for achieving a permanent ceasefire in the battle between our individual selves and all of our fellow creatures. May we all merit such peace in our lives this Yom Kippur and always. 

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