FROM OUR RABBI…
Shalom, B’nai Sholom!
A few years ago, I was asked to settle a Jewish debate. One person insisted that the specific deadline for apologies and repenting was Yom Kippur, and the other was sure that you could address those issues all year long. The answer, of course, is that they’re both right.
The Jewish calendar and the majority of our High Holy Day liturgy point to Yom Kippur being the deadline for mending fences, making restitution, and doing the work of t’shuvah – (re)turning to our best selves. Ideally, we spend the month of Elul doing the work of cheshbon hanefesh – taking an accounting of our actions over the course of the past year. At our S’lichot service, we are reminded that Rosh Hashanah is just days away and call ourselves to task. We ask that we be inscribed and sealed for a good year. And the final service of Yom Kippur is called Ne’ilah – locking – when we imagine the gates of repentance close for the season.
But. We can also call to our aid a plethora of other sources in the Jewish canon that refute this concept. One tradition says that we have through Sukkot. The very same Yom Kippur liturgy that implies a strict timeline also provides its antithesis: We address God as “difficult to anger, easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of [sinners] but that they turn from their path and live. Until the day of their death You wait for them; if they (re)turn, You accept them immediately.” Similarly, even as we imagine the gates closing, we ask for them to stay open: “Open a gate for us when the gates are being closed” (Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, pg. 613). And if you participate in a regular weekday service (i.e. not Shabbat or a holiday), you’ll notice that the Amidah – the central core of the service – has a different and much longer middle section, which includes a prayer for forgiveness for our sins. Three times a day, six days a week our liturgy prompts us to ask God for mercy and hopefully inspires us to do the same by all of the friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances that we may have wronged.
In reality, we generally know we’re *supposed* to do the right thing, but it’s often too easy to put it off. The apology note you keep meaning to write gets perpetually postponed. The $20 you owe your friend from that dinner a few months ago waits for “the next time I see her.” That new healthy diet you promised yourself you’d try will definitely start on Monday… one of these weeks. The High Holy Days create a sense of urgency to settle all our debts, both financial and personal. Without the alarm clock – the perceived threat of the gates locking shut at the end of Yom Kippur – we might never get around to claiming the biggest perk of the season: a fresh, unburdened start to the new year.
So, when it comes to making (and accepting) apologies, repaying debts, fulfilling your resolutions and repairing relationships, don’t worry; you’ve got plenty of time. But also, hurry up!
Wishing you all a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah – a good and sweet new year!
Rabbi Danielle Weisbrot