How many articles and blogs about the Jewish High Holidays have you seen? You probably know everything about the apple and the honey, the round challah bread and the fasting. The internet, media and newspapers are saturated with information about the Jewish High Holidays, in particular the New Year—Rosh Hashanah. I’m rarely satisfied with what I read on the subject. I often feel the information is inaccurate or missing the ethical and spiritual part of Judaism.
The Jewish High Holidays consist of two major holidays: the New Year—Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur. It also includes the days that fall between these two holidays—all together 10 days that are called Days of Awe.
Judaism is a unique religion where confession is only given during the 10 days of the High Holidays, a time when a person can ask for forgiveness. It is a religion where sins between people are considered much more severe than sins between man and God. Yom Kippur, the main day of repentance, can absolve you of sins between man and God, but not for sins between man and his fellow man.
During Yom Kippur, Jews fast and pray for God's forgiveness for the transgressions they have made against God in the prior year. Sincere repentance is required, and once again, God can only forgive one for the sins one has committed against Him. This is why it is necessary for Jews to also seek the forgiveness of those people who they have wronged throughout the year. As you can imagine this is no small or easy task.
People often hurt others but rarely make the effort to make things right. Even though individuals want to become more righteous, they find it unbearably difficult to have to apologize to certain people.
According to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, Western society has a widespread aversion to apology. Whether somebody cuts another off in traffic, or destroys a marriage, admitting guilt is out of vogue. In fact, pop psychology has done all it can to remove the whole concept of guilt from our lexicon. It's much easier to rationalize our mistakes away. And it's unhealthy to feel guilt—suppress it, they say.
On one level, this suppression is unhealthy. Refusing to admit wrongs can be depressing and paralyzing. The regret stays inside and festers. On another level, this suppression is downright dangerous. Because when a man repeats an inappropriate act enough, he eventually comes to rationalize it as proper. The Nazi Himmler wrote that in his own personal experience with killing Jews, the turning point came when he was able to fall asleep at night without any guilt. He knew then that he'd crossed the point of no return.
It can be excruciatingly difficult for people to admit that they have done wrong. We excuse ourselves. We refuse to admit the truth. We shift blame. We deny the obvious. We excel at rationalizing. However, the person who wrenches from himself the unpleasant truth that he has sinned, has performed a great and meaningful act. In other words a person needs to feel remorse and make amends to those he harmed.
Whether you are Jewish or not, why not take this time, during the Days of Awe, to make things right between you and someone you’ve wronged. Bring peace, harmony and respect into your relationships.
And from me to you, I ask you again to forgive me for any mistakes I’ve made during the last year. Any of you who I might have hurt or harmed, please know that I never meant to do so and that I am sorry.
As you pray and atone may you be blessed with all the good things of life.
!גמר חתימה טובה