Atonement and Forgiveness

This morning, Muri and I will be back in the park, reading the Yom Kippur liturgy from the High Holidays prayerbook, the machzor, bringing the Days of Awe to an end.   As with Rosh Hashanah last Thursday, we began the holiday last night with a nice dinner, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and spinach then went out for frozen yogurt afterward.  We’ve been fasting since then and will until sunset today, as is traditional, symbolically putting our spiritual life before our physical needs and wants.   Yom Kippur literally means The Day of Atonement on which we complete the process of repentance or teshuvah for transgressions we’ve committed during the past year.  The liturgy includes two confessions, Ashamnu, a short list of sins in general form and Al Cheit, a longer and more specific list excerpted here:

For the sin that we have committed under stress or through choice;
For the sin that we have committed in stubbornness or in error;
For the sin that we have committed in the evil meditations of the heart;
For the sin that we have committed by word of mouth;
For the sin that we have committed through abuse of power;
For the sin that we have committed by exploitation of neighbors;
For all these sins, O God of forgiveness, bear with us, pardon us, forgive us!

But there’s a catch.  While fasting and prayers today atone for offenses against God, sins against other people can only be forgiven if we have reconciled with them by settling disagreements or debts and asking forgiveness during the days leading up to Yom Kippur.   According to tradition, if we are asked for forgiveness, we can withhold it the first two times we are asked but on the third time, we are required to forgive.  Hence, Yom Kippur is not only a time for Atonement, it’s a time for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, a new start with friends and family.

Some Jews spend most of the day in synagogue but we usually return home around noon, when our stomachs start growling, and take a little nap.   As the day draws to a close, we’ll break the fast the way we’ve done it ever since we were sweethearts in college (and I was a Catholic boy fasting for my first Yom Kippur) … with McDonald’s milkshakes.   We’ll have dinner, something easy on the empty stomach … and it’s a new year.  As Yonah Bookstein says in an article titled Yom Kippur etiquette guide: Forgive and be forgiven in the Washington Post: May the lessons of Yom Kippur inspire us to show compassion, forgiveness, and love to  ourselves and each other, and renew our souls.

L’Shanah Tovah.

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5 Comments on “Atonement and Forgiveness”

  1. Judy Says:

    Beautiful, freeing, inspiring, thank you for sharing this.

  2. marjulo Says:

    I think this is a powerful religious precept because it requires step by step active participation. Thank you for sharing what is required on Yom Kippur!

  3. ceceliafutch Says:

    It often comes as a surprise to my friends, but my favorite holiday is Yom Kippur because of what it signifies. The week leading up to this day is spent in reflection about my actions of the past year and who I need to seek forgiveness from, as well as what it means to forgive those who have wronged me in some way. You explain it so well and with great sensitivity. L’Shana Tovah. 🙂

    BTW, we break the fast every year (since we met) with bagels and lox and juice. . . and of course, lots of water! 🙂

  4. wordsfallfrommyeyes Says:

    This was enlightening to me, thanks. I appreciate having learned something.

  5. Rick Gleason Says:

    Great post Bud and educational for those of us not privy to the depths of the meaning behind Yom Kippur. Thank you for sharing it.

    I believe one of the surest evidences of a person’s greatness is their capacity to forgive. A far greater power will forgive who they want, but of us I believe we are required to forgive all.

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