Is Yom Kippur a Dance of Forgiveness? by Louisa Hext

Yom Kippur for me is the most significant of all Jewish holidays. Known as the Day of Atonement, it occurs on the 10th day of Tishri, the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. Tradition holds that on this day, Moses received the second set of Commandments, 40 days after *G-d forgave the Israelites for praying to the forbidden Golden Calf. It’s both a solemn and celebratory time – words that may seem contradictory, though ultimately they complement each other.

Each year, I as a woman who is Jewish, I ask for forgiveness for those sins I’ve committed over the previous year. I pray, meditate, and fast over a 26 hour period. Religious practice teaches that to repent and atone my sins, I must seek forgiveness from the person I’ve harmed. I must speak to that person and apologize before I can ask G-d for forgiveness.

Whoever came up with something like that? You mean I have to face the person I’ve hurt, look them in the eye and speak from my heart? Honestly, how easy is it to be accountable, to apologize and correct a wrong, perhaps several wrongs? It isn’t, and that’s the point. All these thoughts rush into my consciousness. Do I have a right to ask for forgiveness? Will my apology be accepted? And what about if I don’t want to forgive someone? Must the person be present for me to offer forgiveness? What about a private conversation without the other person present? Perhaps making a phone call, writing an email or a letter will suffice? How about a chat on Skype or Facebook? And what if the person I want to forgive is deceased? Maybe forgiveness is for me. So this year, I’m in this quandary wondering whether Yom Kippur will provide the perfect recipe? Will the security of an ancient Jewish ritual promise to make things right for one more year?

Perhaps in past years, but this year it’s not that simple. Yes, the ritual permits me to remove my guilt, to go through the motions and then all is sealed for the next twelve months. More and more, I desire to look deeper within and create my own understanding of what forgiveness is. And when I forgive and when another asks forgiveness of me, I realize it’s a process that will unfold when I’m ready and when I experience compassion and forgiveness within and for myself, first and foremost.

To share my vulnerabilities is one of the most challenging and humbling things I can do. To be authentic and to speak my truth provides me the opportunity to initiate a new path, albeit an unknown direction. It’s sticky, messy and uncertain territory. My inner journey, supported by the traditions and security of Yom Kippur is inspirational. Yom Kippur is the only Jewish holiday that recognizes human weakness. It allows me to set my intention – to make amends, to apologize for mistakes made and to consider the apologies of others. This year, Yom Kippur will become my celebration.

I will accomplish something magnificent – reaching inward, trusting my intuition, feeling self-compassion and self-forgiveness. And for that, I’m most grateful.

*The custom of substituting the word “God” with G-d in English is based on the traditional practice in Jewish law of giving God’s Hebrew name a high degree of respect and reverence.

Louisa J. Hext is the North American Coordinator of the traveling exhibition, The F Word: Stories of Forgiveness (a program of The Forgiveness Project).  She serves as the Lead Volunteer for Charter for Compassion International’s (CCI) Peace and Restorative Justice sectors