On Yom Kippur, A Moral Cease-Fire


Like all years, we leave 5775 exhausted, many of us repeatedly disappointed by politicians and rabbis; by men and women wise or witless; by opponents public or private, those with whom we are intimate and those with whom we are vaguely acquainted. 

Disappointment breeds justification; tragedy — a stabbing, a suicide, a slander — grants us permission, we think, to make sweeping indictments, accusations and conclusions, far beyond the perpetrator. Yom Kippur comes, restoring grace and mercy to an unforgiving landscape.

This year, like all years, had its share of moments that might have left us convinced that there is no shortage of the guilty and, of course, the guilty is them, not us. Yom Kippur comes to whisper, not once but thrice, that “all the people are at fault,” not just the elite but “the strangers who live in our midst,” and God is asked by us, in words suggested by the siddur, “to pardon the inequities of this people … even as You have forgiven this people ever since the leaving of Egypt.”

The emotional slate can never be wiped clean, realistically, for those of us who are more earthly than the angels. But Yom Kippur comes as a Sabbath, a restoration of balance, a reminder that we — the collective “we,” not “we” the faction — are all part of the Soul of Israel. They are us and we are them. We are their reason, and this is the season, beginning with Kol Nidre, when “we declare it lawful to pray with sinners.”

This is not to say that crimes and misdemeanors have not pocked the landscape, and this is not to say that there can be Redemption without reform. Rather, this is a call for humility and introspection. A cease-fire. May we have as much mercy on each other as we ask for ourselves. After all, in Yom Kippur’s eyes, all of us are the reason.