The High Holy Days is the time that we think a lot about memory and forgiveness. Avishai Margalit, who teaches philosophy at Hebrew University, makes a useful connection between memory and forgiveness. Margalit’s writing has influenced my thinking a great deal. In his book The Ethics of Memory, he suggests two types of forgiveness.
The first type is one in which the transgression is crossed out, like a word on paper that has been crossed out, but is still visible. Thus, forgiveness without forgetting is possible. The harm done to us is remembered, but disregarded. One reason to forgive on this basis is to be able to stop holding a grudge
The second type of forgiveness Margalit describes is one in which the transgression is deleted, like a word deleted from a page, and then forgotten. The transgression can be against God or against another person.
A relevant Biblical passage in this regard is one that is quoted in the Yom Kippur prayers: “I wipe away your sins like a cloud/your transgressions like a mist. (Isaiah 44:22)”
The Isaiah text offers a beautiful image that supports the Margalit text. The cloud and the mist are there precisely to cover our sins and should not be dispersed, because that act of covering could lead, as Margalit describes, to forgiveness.
What I am suggesting here is not a cover-up in the usual sense, where a perpetrator obscures a misdeed in order to avoid taking responsibility for it. Rather, this would be where the perpetrator has taken responsibility for his action and the victim “covers over” the memory of the harm suffered. The victim does not forget it, but decides to shroud it for reasons that make sense to the victim.
To shroud a painful memory might be the only way that the injured party can achieve some healing.
Ken, Tamar, Gabriel and Nina join me in wishing you a good, healthy new year.
Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz
Temple Beth El
During this month of Elul, which we have just entered, we are instructed to make teshuva with our family and friends. We know that on Yom Kippur, we heal our relationship with God; however, in order to clear our relationships with others we must take action. Teshuva means return; I think of it as a return to innocence and clarity with God and with the people we are involved with. In order to make teshuva there are three R’s, important areas that need to be covered: Recognition, Remorse, Resolve.
First, we must Recognize that there is some blockage, tension or break with another. It is important that we own our part in that situation and that we are aware of our responsibility.
Second, it is necessary to feel Remorse. “I am sorry for my part of this disconnect.”
Third, Resolve to change it, and do your part to make that change happen. Often, just saying, “I am sorry. I resolve not to do that again,” is enough. Other times, we need to set clear goals with ourselves of how we will change certain behaviors or attitudes.
We are instructed to make amends, for which there is a simple formula. We are also reminded on the High Holy Days of God’s attributes – one of those is forgiveness.
Approach someone who is important to you and say, “Please forgive me for anything I might have done to offend or hurt you, either knowingly or unknowingly.” This often leads to a further discussion, which helps the healing process. We practice forgiving others just as we want God and others to be forgiving of us.
So, I personally ask each of you, “Please forgive me for anything I might have done to offend or hurt you, either knowingly or unknowingly.” If you have any personal issues with me, or questions about this process, please call me. I am also available to help you make teshuva with any person that may require a third party.
The High Holidays are very compelling and evocative. When you involve yourself in the process of teshuva, these Days of Awe become even more significant in your personal life. May each of us be blessed for a healthy, prosperous and conscious New Year.
Shalom and blessings,
Rabbi Efraim Eisen
Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, celebrates new birth, both cosmic and human, both physical and spiritual. On the cosmic level, Jewish tradition considers Rosh Hashanah to be the anniversary of the Creation of the world. On the human level, some of the Rabbis thought that it actually is the anniversary of the sixth day of Creation, when G-d created humankind. On the physical level, the traditional Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah tells the story of the birth of a baby, Isaac, who is born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age and becomes one of the ancestors of the Jewish people. On the spiritual level, Rosh Hashanah is a time for teshuvah, repentance or return, a time for spiritual rebirth or renewal.
I think there is a connection between the different types of birth and rebirth that we celebrate, remember or seek on Rosh Hashanah. There is a sense of wonder and hope that we often feel at the birth of a new baby. It is similar to the sense of wonder that we sometimes feel at the beauty of the Creation, when we gaze at sunsets or mountains or the sea. It is similar, too, to the excitement and awe many scientists feel as they uncover the workings of the universe, from identifying subatomic particles like the Higgs boson to exploring the structure of distant galaxies. This sense of hope and awe is also what the liturgy of the High Holy Days is meant to elicit in us, hope that we can change our lives for the good, awe as we lift away the veils that make the world seem drab and ordinary and realize that we stand in the presence of the Divine.
May the coming Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, be a time of renewal and rebirth for us, and may the New Year of 5773 be a year of health, happiness and blessing for us, for our loved ones and for our world.
Rabbi Joyce Galaski
Congregation Ahavas Achim