On Facing Yom Kippur

Today is Yom Kippur. The Jewish holiday of atonement, forgiveness, teshuva.

It’s a hard holiday to explain to people. They hear the word atonement and self flagellation typically comes up next. It doesn’t help when everyone has their own method of how exactly to seek that atonement. Some do go down the suffering path. Part of the holiday is to fast so some suffering is built in.

The key though is while we look to God for forgiveness, we are supposed to first seek out those we have wronged and ask them for forgiveness. God can’t heal the hurt between two people, so that has to be done manually.

I’m really bad at it.

If we’re being nice, I didn’t have the best childhood. If we’re being honest, I grew up in an emotionally abusive home that stunted me both emotionally and socially. There are lots of seemingly basics that I’ve had to teach myself; saying thank you and I’m sorry for example.

I very much doubt I’m alone. So how do you face a holiday which tells you to make yourself vulnerable? Confront others and ask for forgiveness, maybe for things you didn’t even realize hurt them. (I personally am not fond of the generic ‘I’m Sorry’ messages that come around this time of year. How can you really be apologetic for something you didn’t even know you did? How can you be forgiven when the person doesn’t know what wound the salve is for?)

There has been countless words written on this by people who have read much more than I have. But then again, we are the people of the book and we are nothing if not people with opinions to share.

God cannot heal the pain between two people. That we have to do ourselves. But we forget there are more than two sides to this. Between God and those around us, we have ourselves.

I know I have done wrong in my life, I’m sarcastic, a brat, a know it all, and completely unable to read most social situations. Reaching out to others, that doesn’t change much in yourself. Of course, the day in synagogue is supposed to be one of self reflection and opening yourself up to God.

And then tomorrow we are still the same people.

Guilt doesn’t work, if it did Jews would have their shit figured out. So if reaching out to others doesn’t help, and our day in services doesn’t help. Perhaps we need to start thinking of ourselves. God cannot heal the pain between two people, so think of yourself as two people. The one trying their hardest to be a good person and the other one who keeps on screwing that up. Maybe these two people inside us take turns being the ass, a good person can still make hurtful mistakes after all.

If we’re two different people, then the best way to face this holiday is before we go to anyone else for forgiveness, we face ourselves and work through that back log of hurt and pain. Not just one day a year, but in the days and weeks leading up to it. You live with yourself ever day of your life, there’s plenty there to keep you busy. I know I do.

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