This evening marks the commencement of Yom Kippur, also known as Yom Hakipurrim, which translates to The Day of Atonement. The concept of “atonement” remains elusive, particularly for me. We often discuss the need to scrutinize our behaviour, acknowledge our transgressions, and face judgment by the Holy One— the singular and omnipotent G-d of Abraham, known by various names and attributes but unseen by human eyes.
The mechanics of this process raise questions.
On this sacred day, there are five prescribed abstentions:
- Refrain from eating and drinking.
- Avoid wearing leather shoes.
- Abstain from bathing or washing.
- Do not anoint yourself with perfumes or lotions.
- Abstain from marital relations.
How do we interpret these abstentions?
By withdrawing from our routine human activities like eating, drinking, and engaging with others, we aim to approach G-d with sincere vulnerability—stripped down and solitary.
But why is there a prohibition on wearing leather shoes?
According to Talmudic sources, the crafting of leather shoes symbolizes human dominion over animals. Today, we recognize G-d’s sovereignty over all, including ourselves.
So, what is our directive?
To gather in the synagogue, connecting with God and the community through solitary prayer. Our prayers, expressed in the collective “we,” entail confessing our sins as a unified whole, yet G-d grants forgiveness individually. This precious and joyous forgiveness transforms a day of fear and solemnity into a festive occasion. G-d, being forgiving and compassionate, slow to anger and swift to forgive, establishes “at-one-ment” between humanity and G-d by day’s end. In Hebrew, “Teshuva” signifies return—our annual right to return to G-d, following a sincere acknowledgment of our transgressions and a plea for forgiveness. This is the essence of “atonement/at-one-ment.”
Yom Kippur adheres to the paradigm of the first day of G-d’s forgiveness—when the Israelites in the desert received absolution for fashioning and worshiping the golden calf. At the same time, Moses ascended 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.”
Moses went back to the LORD and spoke:
“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)
Thus commenced the initial real-life process of sin and reconciliation between G-d and the Children of Israel. Despite their transgressions, the path led to ultimate reconciliation and forgiveness. The day of absolution arrived forty days later when Moses descended the mountain for the second time. On this occasion, G-d accepted the People’s remorse, and Moses presented the second set of Tablets—the Jewish covenant. This narrative serves as the foundational model for the observance of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is a framework for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with G-d following significant missteps. Despite its fasting rituals, the day embodies not only solemnity but also joy, reconciliation, and the prospect of stepping into the future revitalized.
How does this transformative process unfold?
I recently found a helpful video about forgiveness and reconciliation. Rabbi Manis Friedman explains there are two types of forgiveness. The first happens when someone hurts you, and you want to forgive to let go of the pain. However, the relationship might not return to how it was, and reconciliation may not be pursued. This is the standard “natural forgiveness.”
On the other hand, if the wrongdoer admits their mistakes and sincerely seeks forgiveness and reconciliation, a significant change can occur. Your heart may soften as you realize the person’s importance in your life, leading to the second type of forgiveness—the forgiveness of reconciliation. To learn more, watch the video from 9:12 to 20:28 min.
I’ve realized how important this insight is for addressing the struggles of indigenous and black communities facing historical racism. The complexities around “apologies” make these challenges even more intricate.
Are these apologies genuinely sincere?
The second type of apology, marked by an honest acknowledgment of past wrongs and a commitment to change, not only leads to justice but also helps in reconciliation and a deeper mutual understanding. This strengthens relationships more than before.
In essence, Yom Kippur is a powerful example of self-reflection, repentance, and the journey to forgiveness. It provides a timeless framework that brings hope and transformation to those dealing with the complex terrain of forgiveness and reconciliation in today’s challenges.