Repentance: From the Personal to the Collective

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, which start when the moon’s shy face is still hidden and conclude at sunset on Yom Kippur.

During these ten days, atonement and reflection – which should be our daily bread – are more readily accepted. As the Rambam writes, “Although teshuva and pleading are always effective, during the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur they are especially potent and are immediately accepted, as it says, ‘Search for Hashem when He is present…'”

I am not an observant woman.  Yet, for the past 40 years, I have fasted and prayed on Yom Kippur. I love praying in congregation with my friends and neighbors, in the intimate egalitarian Reform congregation in my community. I love the singing and chanting as they make their way into my  heart. I love this “time-out” from the madness of the daily routine; I love the ritual that beckons towards contemplation and reflection, contrition and resolutions for the year that is upon us.

These rituals repeat themselves every year. But do we really mend our ways in the days to come? What really remains after the catharsis we feel as we conclude our fast and our prayers and listen to the sounds of the Shofar?  If we merely return to our old ways, to our comfort zone, to our complacent, “I will sin and then I will atone,” – then how can we repair the world? From where will change come?

And where, within all these prayers of repentance, atonement, and contrition, can we, as a society, carve out a space for our collective soul-searching?

Some might say that collective soul-searching is political, while Yom Kippur is meant to purify our personal souls.  But if Yom Kippur is not to lose its deepest meaning, the fear and trembling that it is meant to stir up in us as we confront our conscience, then we must engage not only in personal prayer, but also in shared contemplation.  We must face those moral codes that are meant to guide us on the Days of Atonement and throughout the year.

And so, I bring my own, personal,  contemplation before you, together with some suggestions for the requests for forgiveness that have yet to be made:

For What and From Whom Do I Ask Forgiveness:

I ask for forgiveness from the members of my family for each and every time that I allowed my temper to overcome my sensibility and my deep love for them.

For the things I said when I was angry, and then was sorry only a moment later.

For the rage that I took out on them, when I was actually angry at myself or someone else.

For all the times that I pretended to be listening, when I really was not.

I ask for forgiveness from all of my partners and coworkers along the way for all the times that I contributed my part to closing down a conversation in a disrespectful way.

I am sorry for all the demonstrations that I didn’t make it to.  For all the times I was silent when I should have stood up and called out.

And I am sorry for all the moments of blindness and lack of empathy.  For the times when I stood idly by when I should have done something.

I am asking for forgiveness from myself for all the times when I lacked courage; when I allowed my fear of failure to constrain my actions.

And at this time of the new year, I make a commitment to myself to be more present.  To keep looking into the distance while remembering that the best place is here and now.

Forgiveness that We Have Yet to Ask:

From the victims of rape and sexual assault who bravely struggle for justice while facing humiliation and abuse by legal system.

From women who earn 30% less for equal work.

From children who live without nutritional or economic security.

From the victims of hate crimes and their families.

From those whose lands were taken from them in the name of “national interests.”

From those who live on the other side of the fence.

From those whose homes were destroyed in war.

From those who lost those who were most precious to them.

From those who lost their homes and their lives as they tried to journey towards a safe haven.

From those who refuse to ignore occupation, discrimination, hatred, racism, sexism, misappropriation and theft, and are cursed and threatened for their courage.

Wishing everyone Shana Tova and G’mar Hatima Tova. May you be signed in the book of life and peace.

Shine a little light: illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima
Shine a little light: illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima