Each week IPA staff and guest contributors take a look at the weekly parsha and discuss it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.
Yom Kippur 5771 – Back to the Future
Ed Koch, the former (and perhaps permanent) mayor of New York tells a story that soon after he was turned from office by New York’s somewhat fickle voters, he reported that people approached him, sometimes ten in a day, saying “Mayor, you must run again.” Mr. Koch reports that he replied “No! The people threw me out, and now the people must be punished.”
Yom Kippur is a time of spiritual accounting that we can understand, because it makes sense. There’s a ledger somewhere in Heaven with all the A/R & A/P, the intake and the outflow, the cash reserves, the endowment, investments and the debt, credit line and future obligations. You add up all the numbers and you have a balance – either in the black (good) or the red (not as good).
Just like in elections (at least in democracies). We vote. And then those votes & those elections have consequences. (The Washington Post noted this in their support of confirming Chief Justice Roberts: he was qualified & President Bush had won. Did Democrats think he’d nominate a liberal to the court? After raising certain concerns on how Roberts might rule as justice, the Post concluded,” These are all risks, but they are risks the public incurred in reelecting President Bush.”)
So what then, is teshuva? Repentance makes no sense. It does not change the past – at least in the physical world (what occurs metaphysically and supernaturally in the cosmic sense is beyond this blog post – or its author – to discuss).
We cannot take back bad things we have said and bad deeds we have done. We can regret them. We can promise to sincerely try better in the future. But what is done is done. (As an aside, we note that Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, in Sifsei Chaim, his monumental work on Jewish thought, writes in the Shemonah Esrei, the Amida prayer, the blessing of regret & repentance (Hashiveiynu) precedes S’lach Lanu, the blessing of forgiveness. First one changes for the better. Only then may they ask pardon.)
It is true in the natural world, where consequences are linear, that the past is the past & can’t be undone. But in our relationships with others: G-d and man, and our relationship with ourselves that’s not 100 percent true. We can’t take back a past deed or word, but we can, if we are sincere, make what we have done better.
It works on the communal & national levels. Not by changing the past. We cannot change history. But who would have thought 65 years ago that one of Israel’s greatest friends in Europe would be Poland? Or that after centuries of bloodshed splashed and splattered across Europe, that one of the American Jewish community’s greatest allies (across Jewish denominational lines) is the Catholic Church.
An as well, in our personal lives as well, parents and siblings and spouses and neighbors and friends cannot take back the past. But with sincere effort, they can remake the future.
That is the gift of teshuva. The gift of Yom Kippur. And it would work wonders in our political, national and communal lives as well. Here’s to hoping.
G’mar chatima tova.
Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.
Posted by: Howie Beigelman, Deputy Director of Public Policy