Saturday, October 8, 2011

Aspirations

Menorah & TallitAspirations

Yom Kippur begins at sundown today.  Also known as the Day of Atonement, this is the holiest and most solemn day of the year in the Jewish religion. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. It’s a day when we’re asked to reflect upon and make amends for our actions during the past year. These themes are an important part of being a good and righteous person. And isn’t that what we should aspire to?


Here’s some background on Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur marks the end of a 10-day period of reflection and repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During these days, Jews seek forgiveness from friends, family and colleagues, a process that begins with the symbolic casting off of sins that is traditionally observed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah by throwing bread into a body of water. And then on Yom Kippur, Jews attempt to mend their relationship with God. This is done, in part, by reciting a public confession of sins.

The vast majority of the sins enumerated in this confession involve mistreatment of other people, mostly by speech (offensive speech, saying nasty things, slander, and telling false tales, to name a few). These all come into the category of sin known as "the evil tongue”, which is considered a very serious sin in Judaism.  This day is essentially a last appeal, a last chance to change the judgment of one’s behavior during the past year, to demonstrate repentance and to make amends. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend services on this day.  It reminds me of that children’s game of musical chairs, where none wants to be left standing when the music stops – or in this case, when judgment comes.

And here are some thoughts and questions:

Like most religions, Judaism is steeped in rituals that have been passed down from one generation to the next.  And like all religions, one’s faith is based in part on the observance of these rituals. But in this secular life we lead, these and other rituals have become marginalized because of all the other things that are going on in our lives. And also in life, we all are perceived by others on many levels – and whether we like or not, our principles and values make up the bases of those perceptions. While many adopt the rituals of religious life, it is even more important to adhere to the values from these religious rituals in the broader context of our daily behavior.  That’s an important lesson to learn.

In Judaism, this period of reflection occurs around these ten days.  But I’ve often wondered why we wait - isn’t this something we should do every day?

•  If you speak or act or think unkindly about someone, shouldn’t you stop and make amends immediately?  
•  Aren’t these the kinds of things that, if left unresolved, create bad feelings and ill will?  
•  Don’t these hurt others, and if so, don’t those hurt feelings get worse over time?  
•  And isn’t it harder after a period of time to go back and try to reverse or make amends for these kinds of things?  
•  How often have you not dealt with something like this, and then how often do these feelings become, or seem to become, too much to overcome?   
•  And how does it feel if you’re on the receiving end of these kinds of things?  
•  Worse yet, how does this look to others who are not directly involved but see these kinds of things going on?

Maybe these are not the kinds of things you should leave until the end of the year – maybe you should deal with them directly and immediately just like you’d want others to deal with them with you. Fact is, the way we treat others, act towards others and think and speak about others says a lot about who we really are.  It’s about the way we want to be treated and the way we should treat others.  It’s that Golden Rule thing again.

Every religion has some form of ritual like this that deals with confessing and resolving the things we’ve done that are wrong. Again: if we know we’ve done and should resolve things that are wrong, why do we wait for some formal or organized or public way to address them? Why do we put off dealing with this kind of stuff until it gets so that we almost can’t deal with it? And how much confusion and hurt do we create by waiting?

While we don’t make resolutions on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur like we do on the January 1st New Year holiday, maybe we should. Maybe we should resolve to stop and make amends, and ask forgiveness and try to mend relationships in real time. As I am reciting my own public confession of sins today, maybe my resolution will be to now start practicing this ritual of reflection, repentance and forgiveness in real time. Better yet, maybe I’ll also resolve that the things I say and do in the coming year will be good enough that I don’t have to go back and ask forgiveness or make amends. I know: that’s a tall order – but in this New Year I really do aspire to become a better person.  That’s what Yom Kippur means to me.
 
My message this week is about integrity – and what it means to do good and be good:

Arte Nathan“A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.” -Baltasar Gracián

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, SJ (1601 – 1658) was a Spanish Jesuit and baroque prose writer. He is the most representative writer of the Spanish Baroque literary style known as Conceptismo (Conceptism).

There’s almost nothing more important in life than integrity. This means you always try to do the right thing, even when nobody’s looking. It means you should always tell the truth, even when it might hurt you or others.  It means you protect others and their reputations, even if it risks your own.  Integrity, like trust, takes forever to build and only a moment to destroy – and everything affects it. When’s the last time someone didn’t tell you the truth – not that he or she just didn’t tell you something – but that they told you something that was clearly not true. How did you feel? You probably couldn’t trust that person after that - right? Once that happens, you’ll have a hard time believing lots of other things they may tell you, or their intentions when they do something… and then the trust is gone. That’s not good. So remember: always tell the truth. Your reputation depends on it.

Stay well!

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