Saturday, September 18, 2010
A wonderful story is told about Rabbi Zusya. Zusya died and went to stand before God for judgment. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had accomplished. He began to imagine what God might ask him - "Why weren't you like Moses or like King David?" But when God appeared, He instead asked the rabbi, "Why weren't you like Zusya?"
God doesn't demand that we be as right eous or just or honest as the greatest men and women in history. God only demands that we be as righteous or just or honest as we can be, given our own unique characteristics, abilities, shortcomings and potential. We should therefore strive to be more of who we are, not who someone else is, or was.
The past two weeks marked the time between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Repentance (Yom Kippur, which was Saturday). This period is called the Days of Awe because of the great seriousness of what we are asked to do.
During this time, Jews turn inward, engaging in deep introspection. We use the 10 days to consider our sins of the previous year and to correct or make amends for them before Yom Kippur. For it is on that day, it is said, that our path for the coming year is set, based on our words and deeds during the time leading up to it. We ask God for forgiveness for our failings and omissions.
We also try to seek reconciliation with ourselves and forgive ourselves for times when we have been irresponsible, unkind, negligent. We try to let go of the regrets we've been carrying with us all year.
More importantly, though, Jews must seek reconciliation with people we may have wronged during the course of the year. Jewish tradition teaches that the Yom Kippur observance atones only for sins between man and God. To atone for sins against another person, we must first seek reconciliation with that person and, where possible, to right the wrongs we committed against them. We ask forgiveness for not being who we know we can be.
This is a challenging exercise. Yet that is precisely where its value lies. To our spouses, our children, our friends we acknowledge the ways that we fell short.
Jewish tradition says that God seals a person's fate for the coming year on Yom Kippur. No matter how a person interprets that, it is unquestionable there is a hopefulness about beginning a new year having made amends for wrongdoings and having made attempts to change direction in a more human, caring, engaged way. It is cathartic to "let go" of our failures from the past year and begin anew. We all need a fresh start every now and then and the Days of Awe provides an annual opportunity to get right with God, with ourselves and our community.
Noah Leavitt is the president of Congregation Beth Israel . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.