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Walking the walk on Yom Kippur

October 2016

“Sorry,” “Sorry,” “Sorry” We have all heard it, said it, and wondered which of the sorries that we deliver and receive are really sincere? What is our tone of voice when we say, “I am sorry”? What is a true apology? Our tradition teaches us that only when a person says that he or she is sorry, feels remorse, pledges not to do it again, and then, given the same situation, behaves differently does true repentance occurs.

Working with children I am constantly saying to these ten-der two- to 10-year-old rule-breaking, peer-hurting culprits one of the most familiar parent/teacher phrases: “Say you are sorry,” often adding, “and mean it.” A handshake or sometimes even a hug may follow, but more often than not (depending on the age), the offender will commit the offending act again.

So what is it with just saying the words, but not changing the behavior? This is our struggle as we grow up and with our yearly Yom Kippur communal confessional. On the holiest day of the year, we gently strike our chest near our heart, seeking repentance for a lengthy roster of sins — “we abuse, we betray, we are cruel,” we “rush to do evil,” we disrespect oth-ers, we engage in malicious gossip. Through it all the language expressing the desire to change, to “be good,” is in the air.

Then the temptation begins. The penitent words have just left our lips, and we (myself included) turn to our neighbor and begin a lengthy piece of “news” about what so-and-so is wear-ing or has said or done. Ugh! We’ve barely finished express-ing remorse for gossiping last year before we start in again on this year’s dose. Why say “sorry” if we don’t really “mean it.” Why repent past behavior if we are just going to repeat it? Are we really only like children, who say they are sorry, when we know they will soon again hit and kick their brother or sister?

Remorse, repentance, teshuvah is a learned behavior — just like gratitude. We don’t give up on the children, continuing to say to them “Say thank you” to instill in them an attitude of gratitude because that’s just not something we are born with. Just like “Say sorry and mean it,” those are values were are not born; they are learned.

As we approach adolescence our emotional childhood expe-riences have seeded a garden of thanks and sorry so that with maturity the true feelings of gratitude and remorse can blos-som. But every age needs to continue to plant and seed this “garden of virtues”; leaving it lie fallow can yield entitled, arrogant, self-centered adults. The Yom Kippur confessionals bring reminders of behaviors that will always need to be tended and nurtured. Even though we might wish to have a check list marking “I got it; I will not do this or that to my friends or family again,” we must accept that we can always grow in this area. Yom Kippur is truly a gift of a day of reflec-tion, a time to remind ourselves of negative behaviors we wish to improve upon. God forgives us, but the challenging forgive-ness is from our community, our friends, our family members, and ourselves.

And so with full sincerity I ask my congregational family for forgiveness, I am sorry for any wrong I have done with knowledge and without to members of this sacred community. I will use this Yom Kippur to do better and strive to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk.” The act of forgiveness is power-ful, it alleviates our soul. Charles Klein wrote, “We forgive, not because we believe that what was done was unimportant, but because we are prepared to put aside our anger long enough to hear words which reflect remorse and regret, long enough to begin to believe that people have the potential to grow.”

I hope that we all have a meaning High Holiday season filled with experiences that will enrich our souls.

April 19,2024 /  11 Nisan 5784