This evening will mark the beginning of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur or Yom Hakipurrim translates as The Day of Atonement. But “atonement” is one concept that nobody understands, least of all me. We talk about reviewing our behaviour, acknowledging our sins, and being judged by the Holy One, the One and only G-d of Abraham. He or She Who has many names and many attributes but is invisible to human sight.
How does this work?
There are five behaviours that one should refrain from on this day.
- No eating and drinking
- No wearing of leather shoes
- No bathing or washing
- No anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions
- No marital relations
How do we understand these avoidances?
Withdrawal from our usual human pursuits of eating and drinking and relating to others encourages our sincerity to G-d – naked and alone.
But how does not wearing leather shoe fit-in?
According to the Talmudic sources, the creation of leather shoes signifies man’s dominion over the animals. On this day, we want to acknowledge G-d’s sovereignty over all, including ourselves.
And what are we asked to do?
To go to the synagogue and commune with G-d and the community through our prayers alone. Our prayers are formulated in the plural “we.” We confess our sins as a collective, but G-d forgives us individually. And that forgiveness is precious and joyful.
And in this way, a fearful and solemn day becomes a festive day, because He/She is a forgiving G-d – a compassionate G-d, slow to anger, and quick to forgive. This is the “forgiveness” that creates the “at-one-ment” between man and G-d towards the end of the day. “Teshuva” is Hebrew for return – the return to G-d is our yearly birthright following the sincere acknowledgement of our sins and request for forgiveness. This is how “atonementt/at-one-ment” occurs.
Yom Kippur follows the template of the First Day of G-d’s forgiveness. The Day the Israelites in the desert received forgiveness from G-d for the sin of having created the golden calf and worshiping it during the period when Moses had gone up the mountain to bring down the Heavenly Torah.
“The Lord said to Moses: I have seen these people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone, so that My anger may burn against them and consume them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
So Moses returned to the LORD and said:
“Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made gods of gold for themselves. Yet now, if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please blot me out of the book that You have written.” (Souce: biblehub.com)
And so began the first real-life process of sin and reconciliation between G-d and the Children of Israel. Yes, they had sinned, but they would ultimately be reconciled and forgiven. That day of forgiveness is the day, forty days later, when Moses came down the mountain for the second time when G-d accepted the People’s contrition and Moses presented the second set of Tablets, the Jewish contract with G-d. That is the template for the Day of Yom Kippur.
It is the template of forgiveness and reconciliation with G-d after serious misbehaviour. Although it is a day of fasting, it is also a day of joy and reconciliation, and going into the future renewed and refreshed.
How does this happen?
This morning I discovered a fantastic video that explains the psychological dynamics of “forgiveness” and how it is the ultimate tool in reconciliation.
Rabbi Manis Friedman explains that there are two kinds of forgiveness. When someone has hurt you by their behaviour, you want to forgive them because you don’t want to carry around the hurt and the pain, but you are not the same as before, and you don’t want to have anything to do with the person who hurt you. This is the first kind of “natural forgiveness,” which most people profess to.
But if the person who hurt you acknowledges his wrongdoing and beseeches your forgiveness and reconciliation, your heart may melt, and you may realize that the person is essential to you, and you do want them in your life. That is the second type of forgiveness, the forgiveness of reconciliation. Begin at 9:12 min – 20:28 min.
I found this very apropos to the current struggles of aboriginal communities and black communities wrestling with the history and ongoing presence of racism in our society, and how to deal with the “apologies.”
Are they apologies?
This second kind of apology, the sincere acknowledgement of past sin and vow to be different in the future, this is the path to justice, reconciliation, and a relationship of mutual acceptance that is stronger than before.