Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur’

Yom Kippur begins at sundown tomorrow.  I don’t have an intimate viewpoint on this holiday, not being Jewish myself and having never attended synagogue on this High Holiday.  I’m pretty far from being an expert, so what I’m offering is an outsider’s perspective on what this holiday has come to mean to me.

For years, all I knew about Yom Kippur was that it was a name on the calendar.  When I first learned a little more about it, I didn’t get it at all.  Fasting all day, droning in a foreign language, lots of tears and catharsis.  It was so different from any other holiday I knew about, I even found it a touch creepy.  As the years have gone by, however, my feelings have undergone a profound shift.  While I don’t celebrate it myself, I love this holiday and what it stands for.  It is also known as the Day of Atonement, and I have deep respect for a religion that has set aside an entire day for this type of introspection.

Where have I gone wrong this past year?  Who have I knowingly or perhaps unknowingly injured?  What could I have handled more skillfully?  To me, this process of reviewing the mistakes and hurts of the past year (whether intentional or not, avoidable or not) celebrates what it is to be human.  We all make mistakes, we all handle things badly, we all say things we shouldn’t have said, or leave things unsaid that we shouldn’t have.  We forget or unable to keep important promises; we tell lies, perhaps to avoid even greater conflict; we don’t have the time or energy or capability to be there the way we wish we could.  We make other people cry; we lose friends through change, neglect, or direct confrontation; we make the wrong decision.  And here’s this holiday that acknowledges this reality we live with, that says: Yes, it’s true, none of us is perfect, and yet we can always strive to improve ourselves, to move on and do better next time.

The way I see it, the process of atonement has three steps.

Step 1: Be aware of your effect on the world. Think about the actions you have taken, the mistakes you have made, how you’ve treated other people.  Reflect on questions of morality.  Remember those times you let your emotions get the better of you.

Step 2: Feel the emotions associated with your actions, and then forgive yourself and let go. This is a hard step, and a critical one.  Atonement isn’t about self-hatred; that will only make your behavior worse over time, not to mention erode at your happiness and well-being.  Atonement is taking responsibility for yourself and your choices, while remembering that you are human and imperfect.  By the end of Yom Kippur, a practicing Jew is considered to be absolved by God.  However, if you don’t believe in a God to be absolved by, you need to find the strength to forgive yourself instead.

Step 3: Learn from your previous behavior and mistakes. Having taken the time to introspect so deeply about your behavior, you can move through life with a cleaner slate.  Not a blank one, of course, but at least a less messy one.  Take the time to think of possible solutions for some of your mistakes.  Sometimes there won’t be a solution, and that’s okay too, but at least you’ll know one way or the other.  Think of how you can become more like the ideal person you wish you were.  Will you ever really become that person?  Perhaps not, but I like to think that throughout life, we draw ever closer to realizing our full potential, as long as we have the willingness to learn from our experience.

I love Yom Kippur because it’s a formalized ritual that helps people go through these steps with the full support of a community behind them.  It means they don’t have to face their faults and shortcomings alone, but can remember that everyone else is in the same boat.

So whether you’re Jewish or not, whether you’re religious or not, I hope that’s what you take away from this post.  We all make mistakes, and it’s important to be aware of them and learn from them.  But we’re also all in this soup of humanity together, capable of learning from what has passed before.

As Anne in L.M. Montgomerie’s Anne of Green Gables says, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

Read Full Post »