Living with the blessings and curses of the new technology today, we’ve all learned there is little room for forgiveness for past faults or indiscretions. They remain on the internet long after we may have matured or corrected our path. Indeed, a new industry has emerged, charging clients large sums of money to help them have embarrassing information submerged and concealed online. But they never seem to disappear completely.
Fortunately, while the internet may be unforgiving, Judaism provides us with an opportunity to begin each year with a clean slate. A major theme of the High Holy Day season — beginning with the month of Elul, carrying through Rosh HaShanah and The 10 Days of Repentance, and culminating with Yom Kippur — is the blessing of forgiving and forgiveness.
We can act to ease our conscience, reset our souls.
According to tradition, in our prayers we ask for God’s mercy for sins of omission or commission that only we, and our Maker, know of. But we also have the opportunity to ask others to pardon us for words or deeds of ours that were hurtful to them, whether intended or not. Those one-on-one conversations and confrontations can be painful, but if there is sincerity from both parties, they can be cleansing, even liberating.
At a time when our society, and our community, has been divided, perhaps as never before, by political, social, and religious differences, the High Holy Days could not come soon enough this year. In our increasingly binary culture — where issues are seen as either black or white, with no room for nuance or context — we need to find ways to see and hear each other beyond our feelings about the man in the White House, the policies of the prime minister of Israel, and the different ways we practice our Judaism.
Over time, we risk an unawareness of how coarsened we have become of late, too quickly adjusting to new realities. Fatal shootings in our schools have become a reality, and even the searing passion of high school survivors in Florida calling for government protection has begun to fade in our memories. A news story this past week noted that an Israeli firm is manufacturing bulletproof backpacks for students, aimed at the American market. Have we simply accepted the fact that part of our children’s reality is experiencing “mad shooter” drills in the classroom? Have we considered the long-term effect this can have on the next generation?
We have become used to President Donald Trump, in his tweets and campaign-style rallies in friendly environs, go on the attack against political opponents, foreign leaders, mainstream journalists, celebrities, sports figures, and anyone else with whom he may disagree. Statements and falsehoods he utters, that a year or two ago evoked shock, are now met with a shrug. Are we beginning to accept such behavior in the Oval Office as the norm?
Many of us have drawn our own lines about Israel’s borders — where they should be, who should be in, who should be out. And more than 50 years after the Six-Day War that presented Israel with “the territories,” arguments still rage, though we do not do a very good job of listening to those with whom we disagree. Worse, we judge our neighbors by their political preferences and let our differences rather than commonalities define us on any number of issues.
The eulogies for an American hero, Sen. John McCain, this past week by two men who defeated him in presidential elections were a poignant reminder that the era of bipartisanship in Washington is a distant memory.
Can we hope for better in the new Jewish year?
The High Holy Days come with a message of humbling ourselves rather than justifying our actions, seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, being prepared to start over rather than holding on to past grudges. It all begins with the message of the Shema, our religious credo: “Hear, O Israel” — not only that the Lord is One, but that we must hear each other as well.
It is said that we Jews don’t listen, we wait.
Only when we make a sincere effort to understand each other, to recognize the humanity of those with whom we disagree, can we imagine a more united society and become the women and men who truly embody our roles as created in the image of God.