The conversation is supposed to begin like this: “Will you forgive me for anything I might have said or done this year that has hurt you?”
Many Jews will point to the Hebrew word het for sin, which is an archery term, and insist that Judaism teaches that sin is just “missing the mark.” That simplification does a grave injustice to the Jewish tradition.
Sometimes, when you visit a place that is full of so much pain, the stories — and days — begin to bleed into one another.
According to press reports, Dick Cheney’s memoir, set to be released this week, is one long exercise is not regretting any decision he made while serving as Vice-President of the United States. This is a shame. The first step in teshuvah, repentance, is recognizing the wrongs that one has committed. Cheney, rather, articulates his continued support for interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, extremes of heat and cold, sleep deprivation, long-term isolation, sensory deprivation and stress positions. It’s clear he will continue to defend his authorization of such torture and has no remorse for the criminal acts of torture he authorized. Cheney could have helped in the effort to repair the harms caused by torturing prisoners by expressing some regret for his actions. He has not.
In Jewish tradition, the act of seeking forgiveness from someone we have harmed is clear and specific.
So here we are seven years later, about to enter the Jewish year 5769. The deaths of Sept. 11 have been compounded by more deaths in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In many ways our world is more violent and certainly more fearful than it had been. Evidence of evil abounds.
Most of us neglect what is arguably the most difficult and meaningful ritual at this time of year: Going to the people we've hurt, recognizing our hurtful actions and asking for their forgiveness
Parshat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) The purpose and path of teshuvah are close to us and known to us
Elul is traditionally a month for polishing the soul. During this time, we search ourselves for blemishes. Then, through the process of teshuvah, we polish and refine ourselves. The culmination of this refinement is the fast of Yom Kippur, from which we hope to emerge shining and radiant.
While projects like tempera-painted honey dishes and party-whistle shofars are de rigueur, preschool and elementary school teachers take seriously the idea of having the High Holiday message of personal accountability set the tone for the whole year
There is a remarkable place I go to, about once a year. It is a spot on the Oregon coast. And I mean, literally, a spot. When I stand on that spot,
I can see the whole world -- all of it.
Straight ahead, I see the Pacific Ocean, waves rhythmically approaching and departing, humming a calming melody. Far in the distance, the ocean meets the horizon, and they melt together into a line of perfect milky blue beauty. I turn slightly to the left, and take in the dark, 10-story-high jagged rocks, partially eroded by centuries of contact with the water. They are lifeless on their peaks but play host to starfish and sea anemones at their feet.
Directly behind me, a neighborhood of houses. In one of them, many loved ones are collected -- at this moment just waking up together, and discussing the swift recent departure of a flock of sea gulls and the possibility of locating crab shells on the beach. Behind the houses is a forest -- a deep, damp, evergreen Oregon corridor -- perched just above the sea line. And to my right -- really, at my feet -- I observe a small creek, originating from that perched forest, carrying its tiny stream from far away into the great, rushing ocean. Around the creek, and in it, are hundreds of smooth stones, created from years of weathering. The stones await the arrival of my young son, who will spend hours among them, touching them, moving them, tossing them back into the water.
From that spot I can see the whole world. I can see life and abandonment and flight. I see unspeakable beauty and I can see years of confrontation. I can see love, togetherness, petty arguments and laughter. I see things that never change and things that never stay the same. And I can see isolation and community, growth and stagnancy, big picture and tiny details.
And all from standing in one spot.
This week's Torah portion starts with a potent word: re'eh -- see. God says to the Israelites: You have the opportunity to experience the bounty of blessing, or to feel the burn of curse -- it is up to you, dependent on your behavior. And God begins this speech with the word re'eh. God says: See. Open your eyes! Take a look. Israelites, re'eh: For a moment, stop moving. Stop walking, stop running, stop eluding, stop covering, stop blocking. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Just see. Look around. Stand in place and use your sight. There are visions to behold. Pictures to take in. Details to note.
Cornell University psychologist Uri Bronfenbrenner agrees with Julius Segal, and adds that children crave the respect, acceptance, patience and feeling of being cherished from at least one parent or other significant adult in their lives.
There's nothing more romantic than a cantor's serenade, a symphony of grumbling stomachs, and an oversized sheet of dry honey cake.
My earliest High Holiday memory goes back to about age 7. It was the night before Yom Kippur and my parents had gone off to the synagogue, leaving my 10-year-old brother and me with a babysitter. I forgot that I wasn't supposed to eat anything that night, went into the kitchen, got on a chair to get a banana from the top of the refrigerator, peeled it halfway down and put it into my mouth.
My brother shouted, "You can't do that!"
The oldest and most primitive human dates back about 7 million years, according to a skull found by scientists in Central Africa.
"That's so depressing," I say to my husband, Larry. "I can't believe that in 7 million years we haven't evolved any further than this."
"This" being a world in which half the people live on less than $2 a day; in which 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night; in which 115 million children never go to school at all; and in which 27 million people live in some kind of slavery.
"You're looking at this all wrong," Larry assures me. "Seven million years is an insignificant blip in the history of the cosmos."
And, Jewish tradition tells me, the first 6,994,235 years hardly count.
Given the atmosphere in the Middle East today, it is hard to believe that just seven years ago, on Nov. 6, 1995, a Jewish funeral took place where the deceased was surrounded and eulogized by Jews and Arabs. Yes, this week marks the seventh anniversary of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin's funeral. Rabin was publicly eulogized (in this order) by Israeli President Ezer Weizman, King Hussein of Jordan, acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. A Jew, followed by an Arab, followed by a Jew, followed by an Arab, all standing together at one graveside in Israel, eulogizing one Jewish leader. Children born that year in the Middle East probably have a hard time understanding how such an integrated funeral was really possible, given the Middle East they have witnessed since they were born.
Was Rabin's funeral, which brought together Jews and Arabs for one brief moment, the first of its nature in the history of the Middle East?
As a scientist and a believer in human progress, I have been concerned about how well the established process of teshuvah (repentance) has worked. Yom Kippur after Yom Kippur - in fact, since the 11th century - we have recited the same confessional prayer, "Al Chet." If we were any good at repentance, shouldn't the list have changed in 1,000 years? Even if we don't want to change the ancient formula, shouldn't we be able to feel that we had eliminated or reduced at least a few on the list? Yet the list of sins remains the same, as does the ritual for expunging them. Why haven't we improved?
This is a story of rebuilding family, of returning to Judaism.
In a High Holiday letter to Jewish friends, New York's Roman Catholic cardinal has expressed "abject sorrow" for centuries of anti-Semitism, and called for a new era of respect and love between Christians and Jews.