Friday, September 21, 2007

My version of atonement

Slate had an interesting article on Yom Kippur.

Here's what we're supposed to have done or be doing:

According to Jewish law, there's a five-step program for sin eradication during the Days of Awe, the weeklong period beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, when God's judgments of each man's righteousness (or lack thereof) over the past year gets indelibly inked in the Book of Life. The first is mere recognition of the sin, followed by remorse for having committed it. Next comes the physical cessation of the sin, the act of restitution toward the sinned against, and, finally, confession before the Almighty, which includes vowing never to do it again.

Versus what people actually do:

Plenty of High Holy Day Jews cut corners on the sacred practice by resorting to what Rabbi Yehuda Sarna at NYU's Bronfman Center calls the "spray-fire" method of atonement. Instead of humbly approaching those you know you've wronged over the past year, you dial up everyone in your Rolodex or e-mail everyone in your address book, and seek a pardon for any offenses you might have given—a hollow gesture if ever there was one. Operating on the Don Corleone-ish principle that a request can't be refused during a blessed event, these Jews literally phone in their apologies and expect forgiveness for all sorts of trespasses, be it a missed birthday, an unpaid loan, or nasty gossip.

Not me. I don't call anyone -- let alone everyone -- to ask for forgiveness. Maybe I should, but whatever. What's done is done, and all I can try to do is fix whatever problems my behavior wrought.

So, instead, beginning around Rosh Hashanah, I tend to contemplate the year gone by. (Probably more because it's fall, and less because of the holiday -- but the reason seems less important than the action.) I think about the things I could have handled better, and eventually, I get to a point where I promise myself, and whatever deity may or may not exist, that I will try harder. This is my version of atoning for my sins.

And, then, more often than not, I go to synagogue and fast. My personal 24-hour atone-a-thon begins in roughly two hours.


Paige Jennifer said...

With age, I've started to make a Paige specific interpretation of Yom Kippur too. Doing this allowed me to transition the holiday from an act of going through motions to something relevant. My Rabbi will kill me but my approach has positively impacted me a heck of a lot more than standing and silently reciting the Amidah three times.

dara said...

It's funny you mention the Amidah. I have some of my most profoundly funny thoughts while I'm supposed to be reading it. I wish I could surreptitiously bring a notebook into the synagogue and write them down.

I still go through many of the motions, but I've come to understand that the significance of it to me is not the religious aspect, but the connection to a four-thousand-some-odd-year-old tradition.