We are guilty

The Day of Atonement. Or as we call it – Yom Kippur. The rabbi gave one of those build-up type speeches where you’re waiting for the punch line. He talked about all of the things we do wrong that we’re sorry about – but we aren’t that sorry. We say something nasty about someone but somehow the combination of factors really made it necessary. God certainly understands. I’m okay. I had a disagreement with someone and the other person thinks I cheated but I know I’m in the right. Besides, they can afford it and I can’t. I violated one of the laws between man and God. But it’s not so clear it was a sin. There are always many considerations in every situation like loss of money, minority opinions that support me and so forth. God knows all about it. He’ll understand me. He’ll forgive me if I didn’t act exactly according to the letter of the law…In other words, there’s always a good excuse, so what is left for me to ask forgiveness for?

So far so good. I was waiting for him to finish with a flourish and say guess what? God understands, but even so, you don’t get off so easy. None of this flippant ‘God’ll forgive ya” stuff when you’re standing before the Almighty. God forgives only if you’re repentant – Not if you think you can get away with it and shirk your responsibility. What you do matters to God. That’s what I thought he was going to say.

But that’s not what he said. This is what he said: ‘When you’re having a dispute with someone, if one person says my part in this is zero and only the other guy is responsible and the other guy standing over there is saying the exact same thing – One thing is for sure. There’s something wrong in the situation. It involves both of you. Maybe your part is 20%, maybe 5% but you can’t just walk away. Every situation is like that. You said something nasty about someone and you think he had it coming to him? Maybe. But there was a situation that involved both of you.

That’s why we say on Yom Kippur “We” sinned, “we” cheated, “we” said nasty things about other people, “we” are guilty. We don’t say “I” sinned because we wouldn’t be able to say it sincerely. We don’t feel it’s our fault.

But as part of a community we’re all part of what’s going on there. There’s someone who has sinned and we all have to admit it before God.

This helped me understand something I had written about in the past. Included in the meaning of tolerance according to the book Alei Shur is to “carry” what we don’t like in the other, as if we’re carrying a heavy weight on our shoulder and we’re continuing to befriend the person in spite of the heaviness that carrying this weight entails. I didn’t get it. It was hard enough to understand carrying the weight of personality flaws. But to also carry the weight of the person’s sins? – Why should I carry his sins on my shoulder?

The answer is if we realize that we are all in this together we’ll feel that his sins are my problem too. There’s a challenge and a task here being given to all of us and we have to work it out together. This doesn’t detract from the responsibility of the person who did something wrong to own his or her behavior. Yet at the same time it implies the premise of the boat with the hole in it. The guy who makes a hole in the boat is causing everyone to sink. But the others can’t just say it’s his problem. They have a job to do to figure out how to mend the hole.

Responsibility is one thing. Caring and feeling a sense of unity with all fellow humans is another. If I feel connected to him I will feel the impact of his sin on myself and want God to forgive him, even if I had nothing at all to do with his wrongdoing.

All the more so if I really am involved in a situation that created this problem. It can’t possibly be only the other person’s doing, because I am part of the whole picture. Just as we would approach the earthly court together as a unit, so we approach the heavenly court. “We” have sinned. We have been involved in a relationship together that has somehow created this problem. Just as we were together in its creation help us to be together in its resolution.

Batya Yaniger

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