Forgiveness Earned


After a tumultuous year in which nothing defined the news so much as its ability to divide us, in which our personal lives surely contained more than a few episodes of miscommunication and misunderstood words, we come to Yom Kippur, when it is possible for all our sins to be forgiven. But that takes an effort on our part to not only pray to the Almighty, but to approach, talk with, listen to and attempt to reconcile with those we have wronged during the past year.

So we are not cleansed by God without a coming to terms among ourselves in this, the most broken of worlds, below.

This does not mean that we abandon our passion for finding and promoting our policies and truth, but rather a relaxing of our certainties regarding the fears, hopes or motivations of those around us. Some rabbis interpret Yom Kippur’s restrictions to be not self-afflictions but simply a resting, giving pause and humility to our habits, absolutes and alibis.

Ours is a world where the news and communication cycles neither slumber nor sleep, where opinion and speed are honored and deliberation is quaint.

It’s not that the news we report isn’t a matter of life or death. Life and death is exactly what we’re talking about, from a nuclear Iran, to the persistent abandonment, delegitimization and disproportionate critique of Israel; to the chilling hatred and calls for Jewish death on some Middle Eastern stations; to even the sometimes callous way we conduct our local communal life — the interpersonal crimes and seemingly small hurts that led to the communal destruction commemorated on that other fast day, Tisha b’Av.

However, Yom Kippur reminds us that life and death is not in earthly hands alone. There is the Heavenly Journalist (to hear the liturgy tell it), who’s inscribing all of our names and the names of nations, who has reported all of our comings and goings with impeccable fairness and accuracy, and who is now inscribing our fate, surely with an exactitude that can only be altered by our repentance, prayers and charity.

Charity is not just financial. It entails seeing, speaking and treating each other charitably. The sages say that if there be even a single defending angel out of a thousand to testify on someone’s behalf, then we can say, “I have found atonement.”

On this Yom Kippur, may we be that angel for each other, particularly for those with whom we have disagreed or misunderstood, and may our charitable nature make us worthy of only good news in the year ahead.