Tonight at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur. It’s also known as the Day of Atonement, where Jews around the globe ask God and their fellow man for forgiveness. We ask to be forgiven for all the failures, indiscretions, and wrongdoings of the past year. We also ask, ahead of time, to be forgiven for all of our upcoming transgressions. It’s like an open acknowledgement that sin is human, and even with the best intentions, we are destined to slip up again, and again, and again.
In some ways, Yom Kippur offers Jews a forgiveness insurance policy. “Please forgive us for all the sins we are bound to commit in the coming year.” We say this as we beat our chests, confessing with heartfelt sincerity, all our regrets from the year that has just passed. It is the humility and acceptance of ourselves as imperfect beings that is inherent in this holiday that I find so compelling.
No matter how sorry we may be, no matter how determined we are to improve our behavior in the future, Judaism recognizes that we will inevitably err anew. So we apologize to all whom we have hurt, and we tell God that we will try to behave better, to be kinder, to act more thoughtfully. But we remind God, or the Universe, or whatever Power we happen to believe in, not to take our declarations and promises too seriously. For our weakness as human beings is to fall short, to let down, to disappoint. But in some ways, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What if, just once, we vowed to improve without strings attached? What if we didn’t give ourselves loop holes and excuses that set us up for failure? It’s possible that even with a deeply sincere commitment to do better we would still fall short and disappoint. But maybe, in the striving, we would actually move closer to the truth, goodness and harmony each of us seeks to achieve.
Wishing all of you a day of repentance, self-reflection and enlightenment.