This is the beginning of the Days of Repentance in the Jewish tradition, starting today with Rosh Hashanah (Yom Ha-Zikkaron) and ending ten days from now with Yom Kippur.
I am mostly, as I often say, a forgetting-to-practice Jew. But there are a few traditions I hold fast to, and the High Holy Days are among them. Not from any religious compulsion or obligation, not because of guilt (ok, maybe a smidge of guilt, that I haven’t yet found a synagogue and honestly haven’t been looking that hard), but more because they…well, they make sense.
The Days of Awe are a time to pause and reflect on the previous year, to consider the actions done by and to us, and to search and find forgiveness. In these days, we are taught, God inscribes our fate for the coming year… but that inscription can be altered by our actions within the next ten days. If we are honest with ourselves, if we seek forgiveness from those we have wronged, and forgive those who have wronged us, the judgment will be lightened, the inscription be kinder.
To quote Nick Cave, I don’t believe in an interventionist god. I don’t believe in an omnipotent God with pen and gradebook. But I do believe in balance, in forgiveness, and in fresh starts. Coming in September – a time of seasonal change and the beginning again of the academic year – it always made perfect sense to me that, along with changing our closets, we could change our approaches.
Yom Ha-Zikkaron is our chance for cleaning slates, for letting go of the impossible demands we have placed on ourselves and on each other, for letting go of the harms caused not by malice but carelessness and inattention.
It is not a free pass. It is an invitation to self-reflection, an opening to ask forgiveness, and the opportunity to give forgiveness to those who come with heartfelt regret.
I am far from perfect. There are careless things I have said in the past year, and past that, that still weigh heavily on me. Things done – and not done – I would change now if I could. I cannot. By intent or omission, I am sorry. I can only ask those that were harmed by those words and (lack of) actions to forgive me, and set myself to do and be better in the coming time. And to the world I say: if you have harmed me, either by intent or omission, by act or by word, and regret your actions, you are forgiven.
L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatem. May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year. And may we learn better, together.
*and stop casting sins into the seas, we’ve thrown enough shit in there already.