September/October 2022


At a conference of European Jewish thinkers, one aspect of the complex challenge of Teshuva - the High Holidays; was explored:


The Talmud in Yoma teaches: "The sins of an individual towards God are forgiven by the Day of Atonement. Sins against other people are not forgiven by the Day of Atonement, if one has not first appeased the offended person..." 


While the Day of Kippur (YK) allows one to obtain forgiveness for sins committed against the Almighty, there is nothing automatic about this. It is not sufficient for the day to dawn on YK for sins to be pardoned. YK is a fixed day set on our calendar and forgiveness - the freeing of a guilty soul through the process of teshuva - requires a set date in order for this work to take place every day. There must be this one day reserved especially for this work and for nothing else!  YK cannot be separated from repentance, contrition, abstinence, fasting, confession, charity, sincere commitments made for our future, etc. When tradition teaches that sins against the Lord are erased by the sacredness of the Day it means that the proper observance of the Day and the spiritual state that it creates, lead us to become forgiven beings. The forgiveness for sins committed against the Almighty does not depend upon God's good will. My standing with God depends only on myself. The instrumentalities of forgiveness lay solely in my hands. 


How different is the situation as regards my fellow human being. To obtain forgiveness from another, I must first succeed in appeasing him/her. When is an offender ever truly capable of measuring the extent of his/her wrongdoing anyway? Can we try to fathom the depth of the hurt we inflict with thoughtless words? Unlike God, the injured party can refuse to grant forgiveness and leave me unpardoned. When two people are involved, nothing is certain.


Any harm (material or moral) done to another person and/or any verbal offense is considered a "sin against man". Violations of ritual commandments such as idolatry, the Passover, disbelief in the ultimate triumph of the good, despair, failure to place anything above money or the material, etc.; these are offenses to God that are cleansed and forgiven by YK through the processes of contrition, repentance, and the penitential rituals. (Sins against another person are, ipso facto, sins against God.)


Beware that the ills which must heal inside the soul, without the help of others, are often the most profound. An evil which requires a healing of the self by the self, measures the extent and depth of the injury. One must rely upon the order of the community to obtain such deliverance. A set day on the calendar with all its solemnity and ceremony is needed for the damaged moral conscience to reclaim the integrity which has been lost and which no one can retake for us. In this urgent task of Teshuva, no one may take my place. HE'YEH SHAM, TIZKU L'SHANNIM RABBOT & L'SHANNA TOVA