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October 5, 2022: Reflecting on Yom Kippur

From Adam Kirtley, interfaith chaplain:

Today is Yom Kippur, the most solemn religious holy day of the Jewish year, the last of the ten days of penitence that begin with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Also known as the Day of Atonement, many Jews will take steps to restore their relationship with God and with others they may have wronged or harmed in the past year.  

While extending an apology is an important part of all relationships, the Jewish tradition centers forgiveness-seeking during the high holy days in ways that speak to the importance of authentic, non-performative acknowledgement of wrongdoing. This is wisdom from which many of us (Jewish or not) might draw.

Admitting our mistakes and considering the ways in which we may have hurt someone can be exceptionally difficult. And yet, it is only part of the transaction of restoration. Authentic forgiveness can be deeply complicated as well. Rabbi David Wolpe offered this reflection about forgiveness in a New York Times column last year:

"There will always be things we cannot fully forgive and people who do not deserve to be restored to good reputation. And forgiving someone does not necessarily mean readmitting that person to your life. In most cases, however, Jewish teachings insist that fair judgment does not require damnation. Judaism, like many other world religions, maintains that human beings are capable of transformation…The more we believe in judging by potential, that what people do is not the sum of who they can be, the more likely we are to create a society that can help people move past shame."

May we acknowledge our mistakes and the harms we have caused, and do so without hiding behind our “good intentions.” Let us also, however, never lose sight of our shared and individual capacity for growth and transformation. And, to Whitman’s Jewish community, may you have an easy fast, and a good year. L’shana tova.

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