Yom Kippur 2012
Another year according to the Rabbanite calendar has come and gone, another day to atone has arrived according to Karaite thinking, and in reflection very little has changed. We do what we have always done. We expect what we always consider our due. We react, much in the way we have always responded to every situation. However, when it comes to Yom Kippur, our day of Atonement, we have this expectation that somehow, someway, for some obscure reason things are going to be different. Why? Why should they be? Why should God forgive and erase all your transgressions, your failures, your sins against others? Why should you deserve such special consideration when you merely look into the mirror and see that the reflection hasn't changed at all? Perhaps it is time to change the expectations of this Holiest of Days and rather than expect absolution, you pray for guidance, for understanding, for tolerance. These would be far better gifts from God than the erasure of your sins. In a world teetering on the verge of madness, destruction and extinction, is it not time that we seek a different path from what we have always done?
I have always had difficulty with the Holy Days when I was growing up. To my observations they had become nothing more than who had the best seats, the best dress, the lowest bow as they shuckled and quaked as they read out their prayers silently. Everything that I knew Yahweh detested and yet they were now venerated as an integral part of our religious practices. I watched as they prayed for a better year, a year in which to buy a bigger house, more holidays, a fancier car. They prayed for their business ventures to come to fruition, the stock market to rise, the costs of everyday life to decline. Of course their mouths moved to the versus printed in the seferim but they were foreign words, meaningless words from a time long past, and as they checked their watches, they wondered how much longer did they have to sit their on those very unfomfortable seats before they could take their next break.
In my hands I would hold my tattered and torn prayerbook, written by my third-great grandfather back in 1865 and published in Vienna and it would provide me with a completely different perspective from my immediate surroundings. The prayers were not always aligned to what was the Rabbinical standard text for these Holy Days. Forgiveness was not being asked for myself but for those that had offended me throughout the year. I prayed for the government, the Emperor (Franz Josef was ruling at that time), beseeching God to grant them wisdom and clemency in their rulings of state. Moreover I came to the realization that how could I even consider or expect God's forgiveness if I could not express forgiveness myself.
It is not an easy task that is expected of us. How do you forgive those that have perjured you, slandered you, libelled you over the preceding year? How do you excuse those that have taken your possessions, your money, and abused your good will? How do you justify those that have attained their wealth and power by lying and stealing from those that trusted them? Why should you extend kindness to someone that prays for your demise ever day of their lives. What degree of blindness and deafness must you possess to overlook each disparaging remark made against you? Where is the reward for you to turn your back on those that have offended you greatly without attempting to strike back? Why should we embrace those that have betrayed us, twisted the knives in our backs and then proclaim themselves as the true victim? In a world where those that perform evil appear to attain their dreams, how do we eliminate the jealousies, the envy, the desire to see them fail from our soul?
The list of those that bore us ill will is endless. Whether it be family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, there have been a host of people that have borne offense against us and unless we possess the strength, the convictions, the willingness to forgive them , then why should we expect any such favour from the Almighty? Let us not view this coming Yom Kippur as a day of Atonement, a day to wipe our slates clean. That will never happen because once the day is past we will just begin afresh our errant ways. Rather we should view this day as one of Forgiveness. A day when we can look beyond the many offenses committed against us and be grateful that no matter what they have attempted to do against us, we still survived and that we still have retained the capacity to forgive them for their transgressions. We must learn to rise above the pettiness, the retributions, the calls for revenge, and appreciate that an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth was not the absolute law on exacting revenge but instead Yahweh's way of saying if you must seek retribution then you must never take more than what has been done to you. That is what separates Judaism from all the other religions. Our capacity to forgive. While others will seek only death, whether it be because their 'prophet' was offended, their 'messiah' was profaned, or they merely cannot tolerate anyone that possesses a different opinion from their own, that is not our way. We must learn to embrace and welcome those that are Strangers for once we were strangers ourselves. The option to forgive has always been left to us. It is the yardstick by which Judaism was once measured and needs to be done so again. How well we have learned to do so is what I truly believe God judges us by when Yom Kippur arrives.
A Blessed Holy Day to you all,
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana