Rosh Hashanah 5773 has come and gone for our Jewish friends here at Nobody’s View, and now is the time for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur. What follows is a column from last year, and…well…it’s time to bring it out again. I’ve changed the dates to this year.
Happy Yom Kippur 5773/2012!
So, our Jewish friends give us yet another great holiday about which to blog here at Nobody’s View.
This Tuesday, September 25, 2012 marks the start of Yom Kippur. Or, in terms of the Jewish calendar, it is Yom Kippur 5773. The holiday is ensconced in the Hebrew Bible in Leviticus 23:27 where God instructs the Hebrews that on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei), the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is to be observed. Other readings, including Leviticus 16, provide instructions to the priest according to the day, including the preparation of the scapegoat in order to atone for the sins of the people. Offerings, abstaining from work, and sincere repentance are the order of the day. This is the price for release from sins.
It’s a Day of Atonement — “at one-ment.” In religious terms, the day bridges sinners with the One who does not sin. The holiday that is just past, Rosh Hashanah 5773, was the start of the Jewish new year. The Book of Life was opened and the great pen was set to parchment to inscribe names for the coming year. On September 25, 2012 (5773), Yom Kippur, the book is sealed (actually, it’s sealed on the next day, but the lunar holidays start the night before!).
Let’s go back to that word “atone.” What does that mean? Perhaps it is the forgiveness of sins or the act of making amends. On Yom Kippur 5773, our Jewish readers come before God, admitting the wrongs committed in 5772. They abstain from work, food, and the delights of the outside world and steadfastly appear before their Creator, seeking forgiveness and a place in the coveted Book of Life.
But now we have a different question on our hands — Where exactly are sins? To put that another way, where is a ‘wrong’ located? Does it become part of our body? Is it jotted down on a Post-It note somewhere? Is it blogged on some great and holy blog on the Internet? (I haven’t found a blog like that so far, although there are a few that fancy themselves such a thing.) I’m sure there are tons of theories on this, but I tend to favor a suggestion that sins do not reside in the soul, per se, but on our human clothing.
A few years ago, I was fortunate to hear a particularly interesting talk concerning sin and atonement. The scholar compared these times of atonement to doing one’s laundry. How? Well, we of the messy eating crew know that stains very often appear on our pristine white clothing. Come to think of it, that’s always when they appear — when we wear white. And, it’s usually a colorful food we spill when draped in white — grape jelly and mustard come to mind. Now, when someone wearing pure white returns to the office from lunch, their stains stand out, you see. It’s true. What is the first thing you notice about them upon their return? The stains! Admit it — you call it to their attention and rib them about it, don’t you? “Nice shirt, Frank! Did you get any in your mouth?” Poor Frank. That guy needs to wear more black.
So, in our example of atonement, through repentance, fasting, earnest prayer, or good will, we can, literally, do our laundry and wash ourselves clean. Holy bleach! Divine detergent! Perhaps the memory of the stain is still with us. Perhaps we regale our co-workers with the tale of the giant meatball sub. However, the stain itself is gone — erased from memory and no longer a source of terror or embarrassment.
That interpretation (just one of many from only one scholar of many) had a profound impact on me — not as a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or Atheist, but as a person. It redefined the nature of sin and repentance, casting it into a much gentler sea. Sure, we all know that it’s easy to judge other people. It’s easy to define someone by a casual (or intentional) deed or error. But think about this — it is quite likely that the people whom you value most are those that look past the faults and see a shining core. They don’t judge based on the passing acts of a human life. They forgive us our foibles and earnestly believe in our better natures. They don’t see only the remnants of pizza sauce on our white shirt. Instead, they know our clean soul and better nature.
I’ve often used the following as my measure of judgement (I said often, not always!): If my life was in danger, would the person with the stained clothes rush to save me? The answer is probably yes. If his life was in danger, would I save him despite my stained clothes? That answer is probably also a yes. With those two propositions on the table, do I really have time to judge? Probably not. A life, not a deed, is on the line.
Become a multi-tasker: learn to love, assist, and do the laundry all at the same time.
5773 is on its way for our Jewish readers here at Nobody’s View. For the rest of us in Nobody Nation, this can also be a time to get something good going — something that applies for all of us, whether we are Jewish or not, famous or unknown, exalted or plain, rich or poor. Imagine that this Tuesday, September 25, 2012 will begin your last day (or, the evening before your last day). How do you want to be remembered — for the times you judged another or for the times you forgave? For the damage you inflicted or the fences your mended? For the fear you harbored or the courage upon which you sailed forth?
The Book of Life is in its last stages of editing. It’s up to you. Will you wash away or forgive the stains of the last year or let the stains blemish you? Will you point out the stains upon others or let them eat in peace? Don’t be fooled into thinking this post is only about God, sin, religion, or Biblical injunction. It’s about common humanity. It’s about all of us — all of us and our clean endings….
All of us and our clean beginnings.