“THE DAY HAS come to take an accounting of my life.
“Have I dreamed of late of the person I want to be, of the changes I would make in my daily habits, in the way I am with others, in the friendship I show companions, woman friends, man friends, my partner, my parents?
“I have remained enchained too often to less than what I am. But the day has come to take an accounting of my life.” (“On Wings of Awe”)
The Jewish High Holy Days have just ended with two weeks of celebration, prayer and soul searching, as we begin the new Jewish year.
After a month of introspection about how we spent our last year, and focusing on things we wish to change, Rosh Hashanah (literally the head of the year) arrives with joy, blowing the ram’s horn, eating sweet foods to reflect the sweetness of the coming year and wishing our loved ones a blessed year ahead.
Ten days later comes the holiest day in the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Jews spend 26 hours fasting and praying, looking deeply into their souls, reflecting on their misdeeds, and seeking forgiveness, not only from God, but from individuals they may have hurt with words or actions.
It helps to understand the Jewish view on sin and forgiveness when observing the customs surrounding these days.
Missing the mark
In Judaism there is no concept of original sin.
We are born innocent, needing no redemption and the mistakes we make in our lives come from poor choices we have made, not because we are inherently sinful.
The word for sin in Hebrew is chet, which is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.”
If we’ve simply missed the mark, we can then make adjustments and amends.
If we have wronged someone, it is important to approach them and ask their forgiveness.
We don’t ask God to forgive us for something we have done to another person.
We cannot pray to God to absolve us of our wrongdoings affecting others.
We must do that hard work ourselves.
However, things we have done which have violated what our faith expects of us are between us and God.
For these actions, we ask for forgiveness directly, and throughout the day in the synagogue we repeatedly recite prayers of contrition and ask for forgiveness.
By the end of the day — after constant prayer and supplication, and no food or water — the hope is that our hearts will have opened, and, because God is a forgiving God, we can move forward, committed to changing our lives.
Close of the day
The theme of Yom Noraim, the Days of Awe, is teshuva, which means “return” or “repentance.”
We strive to return to a more holy life, to return to God, and to return to who we really are: beings who have the holy spark of the divine within us, just waiting to emerge.
The imagery as Yom Kippur comes to an end is that of heaven’s gates beginning to close.
There is a sense of urgency, and we pray with increasing intensity so as to make sure our voices are heard and we are forgiven before the gates slam shut.
Of course, in reality, we know that they never really close, but it is a powerful image.
The day ends with one long blast of the ram’s horn and a sense of release and spiritual unity flows through us.
As the Day of Atonement ends we have a feeling of “at-one-ment” with God and all of humanity.
May you all be blessed with a sweet year.
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected] olympus.net.