VICTIMS BECOME PARDONERS ON THE JEWISH HIGH HOLIDAYS
by Ted Roberts
Diamond Sky Institute, 9/12/2010 11:57:22 PM
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - as every Jewish child learns in
prekindergarten - are about forgiveness. Jews of all theological
stripes - even those whimsical souls who spread mayo instead of
mustard on their pastrami, eat sweet rolls on Passover, and think
the Pentateuch is an olympic event - regard these holy days with
Actually, the High Holidays, as they’re called, are a ten-day period
beginning with Rosh Hashanah (The New Year) and ending with Yom
Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Leviticus commands us to announce
the big day, Rosh Hashanah, with a blast of the ram’s horn or
shofar. That original ram’s horn, of course, still lingers in
today’s terminology; trumpets, bugles, coronets, trombones are all
referred to as horns.)
We blow the shofar - like the bugle at reveille - to wake up the
worshiper to the reality of the world to come and the divine judge
who awaits our appearance at the Bar of Justice.
On Rosh Hashanah the fate of the penitent for the coming year is
tentatively determined - written in sand so to speak and on Yom Kippur
it is carved in stone tablets like the granite of Sinai.
The earnest penitent - during those tense ten days when even the
angels tremble, we are told - pleads with the Creator for
absolution. But deep down in the midnight of his soul there’s a
rumbling discontent. A distracting angst that darkens his hopes.
The rub, you see, is that forgiveness for sins against one’s fellow
humans must also come from the victim. So says the Talmud. That’s
why murder is such a heinous crime. You’ve destroyed the only
source of your absolution. You’ve burned down your house and your
insurance agency with the same torch.
When Jewish and Christian interfaith groups get together on Sunday
for punch, cookies, and fellowship they talk for hours about the
many similarities of the two sister faiths. “After all, we worship
the same God - we share the Five Books of Moses.” That’s the mantra
of unification. But eventually the talk comes around to areas of
delicate disagreement. And after an invigorating debate on the
identity and timing of the Messiah, the next topic is forgiveness,
the balm of Gilead. Soon, both sides are metaphorically throwing
oatmeal cookies at each other because forgiveness is one of the epic
discriminators between the two faiths.
“Redemption must be earned like your daily bread,” says Jewish
“It droppeth from the sky like the gentle rain,” says Christianity.
Raise your face and it will wash away your tears. And Faith is the
catalyst that metamorphs repentance into redemption.
This easy absolution is inexplicable to the Jewish mind that
meditates on the Yom Kippur message of repentance. If it’s pardon
you’re seeking, says Judaism, there’s no dodging the plea to the
aggrieved party. Though prayer - the pleading with the Judge - is
an essential element of Judaism, it’s not quite the same as amnesty
or even restitution: like fixing the fender of your neighbor’s car
that you bashed one midnight - inviting to supper your wife’s cousin
who you’ve ignored for years - returning the Social Security
overpayment - praising the office competitor who you’ve routinely
degraded around evaluation time.
According to Jewish doctrine, the contrite sinner, in addition to
his synagogue devotions, must run the gauntlet of those he has
wronged. Even a merciful God is hesitant to pardon transgressions
against humanity. He will forgive your violations of his legal code
dealing with diet, Sabbath and worship. But if you malign your
friend with slanderous accusations or misbehave with his wife, who’s
the virtual twin of Britany Spears, then God shrugs. Better talk to
them first, he says. Ask forgiveness. If they say OK, then come to
me. We’ll see.
There’s a rabbinical tale that says on the day after Rosh Hashanah,
while the divine decree is formulated but as yet unsealed, the
Magistrate of the universe takes control of every aggrieved human
heart. And just as He hardened the heart of Pharaoh, he gentles
those of the world’s victims. They always grant absolution if
sincerely petitioned by the sinner. Furthermore, the Talmud
consoles us with, “whose sin does G-d forgive?” Answer; “He who
forgives the sins of others”. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
seekers of repentance fervently rely upon this comforting thought as
they solicit their victims - now their pardoners.
The humor of Ted, the Scribbler on the roof, appears in newspapers
around the US, on National Public Radio, and numerous web sites.