In some ways, the High Holidays (and Yom Kippur in particular) are ‘artificial lines in the sand.’ Meaning, the intense internal work that we seek to do for our own lives, and the health of our community can be done at any time, but for the vast majority of us, it is not. Life is busy. Introspection is hard.
So Judaism gives us a set period of time for this ‘project’ – the days leading up to Yom Kippur. Although it is profoundly personal, we don’t do it alone, but rather as a ‘team’ with Jews everywhere charged towards this effort.
One of the main components of Yom Kippur is to recognize who we have wronged in the past year, to try our best to correct the harm we have done, to internalize the regret, and to apologize. Tradition holds our proverbial feet to the fire with the instruction that we need to be specific about the person, and our infraction, in order to have our apology ‘count’. (Sorry, posting a general apology on Facebook to a faceless population absolutely does not count.)
Our Sages (Rambam) hold that God will forgive you for sins against God; but that God can not forgive you for sins against another person. For that, you need to do the work. This is a necessary step towards any ‘repentance’ that you might feel. It may require you to give up some ego, and that uncomfortable exercise of admitting that you have a part in whatever has happened.
Guilt is good when it motivates us ‘to do the right thing’, to mend bridges and bring about more peace in the world through reconciliation. But guilt is not a good thing if we are enslaved to it…forever. Tradition requires us to sincerely asking another for forgiveness three times. If, after the third time, they still have not forgiven you, then you are ‘off the hook.’ You have done what you can and should, and now the burden rests on them.
Today would be a good day to start making a mental (or actual) list of folks to approach. Usually I start with the ones whom I live with and love most, my family.
May you have the strength and insight to bring peace into your home, into our world, and into yourself.
May you and your family, and this amazing Temple Emanu-El community, be gifted a year of blessing and purpose, forgiveness and joy.
Shanah tova & Shabbat shalom,