REFLECTING ON YOM KIPPUR
by Peter Schweitzer
This article was first published in “Humanistic Judaism,” Autumn 2001
This is supposed to be, for Jews, the season to say I’m sorry. This day is about each of us alone yet together, quietly, thoughtfully, honestly, owning up to who we are, who we have been, who we want to be. It is that simple and that difficult.
Today we have an opportunity – no less, of course, than every day of the year – to set our lives straight. What makes this day special is how we set it aside. Because introspection and atonement are not casual affairs that can be done fleetingly. They need concentration, dedication, devotion, and no distractions. They need the time we set aside to strip away the defenses, the subterfuge, the evasion, the turning the finger outward rather than inward.
Today is a day for confession, which requires straight talk, not word-twisting and semantic evasions.
Today is a day of responsibility, which is about owning my own actions and not passing the blame to others.
Today is a day for contrition, which rests on awareness and regret, not posturing and expediency.
Today is a day for renewal, which will be proven by our actions and interactions with each other far more than by any private confessions we make to ourselves.
Our tradition has given us this day wisely because it knows how much we need it. Humans are, by definition, imperfect, destined to fail over and over again, to come up short. We need a way to repair and to struggle forth, ever striving for a bit more success than we have managed in the past. Today we begin again this journey. May this day be for all of us a day of true confession, genuine responsibility, honest contrition, and real renewal.
Rabbi Peter Schweitzer is rabbi emeritus of the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in New York City, founded in 1991.