Yisrael Rosenberg

Day of Forgiveness

It’s a few hours before Yom Kippur.

This is the day that Jews – in Israel and in every corner of the world – congregate around “the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people,” in the hallowed words of Wikipedia.

[Check out the link to Mr. Yonatan Razel’s song below. Doesn’t matter if you understand the language. The meaning seeps through in any case:]

Yonatan Razel – “Et Panecha Avakesh”

The Simple Meaning of Yom Kippur

What does ‘Yom Kippur’ actually mean in English? What jumps to mind is: ‘The Day of ATONEMENT’. That phrase appears in every English-language publication I have ever seen referring to the day that comes around like clockwork every autumn, ready or not.

But will someone please tell me – what the heck is ‘atonement’?

Is it more than some fancy, Latin-based word that is meant to explain something sublime, but instead leaves people confused and unsure of what we are talking about?

No, it isn’t.

Because ‘atonement’ is a high falutin’ way for saying a great, simple, Anglo-Saxon word made up of three even simpler Anglo-Saxon words. A word that every first grader studying English as a first, second or nth language understands very well:

FOR-GIVE-NESS – the state of being forgiven.

GIVE – well, we all know what giving is, don’t we? If we’ve ever received anything, any kind of sustenance of any kind in our lives – and all of us have, if we are in fact living and breathing as we read this – then we know that someone or something has GIVEN something FOR someone or something.

Forgive-NESS. The state of having been given something. Something very good, something that everyone always needs a little bit of – from the greatest tzaddik (righteous person) down to the baddest kid on the block. We all need to know that sometime, somehow, somewhere – we are FORGIVEN.

That my friends, family and loved ones, is the real, simplest meaning of Yom Kippur. The Day of Forgiveness.

Is Yom Kippur for Jews Only?

Is Yom Kippur a holiday that has relevance only for Jews?

Listen to what a remarkable woman, Dr. Quanta Ahmed, a born and bred Muslim, recently said on the matter:

“Yom Kippur has an important message for Muslims, not the least the need for repentance and return. Muslims in power have submerged Islam’s values, mirroring not our merciful Maker, but instead our meanest spirits.

Muslims also have the chance to recover their own sense of forgiveness, innate to Islam, if they are to receive the Raheem that only God can bestow, and a return to the straight path that was once revealed to us.”

Apparently, the Day of Forgiveness can resonate throughout the entire spectrum of the human condition.

Forgive? Forgive WHOM?

If we are talking about a day that is completely dedicated to forgiveness, then this implies that someone or something is forgiving someone. That ‘someone’ can be either the Creator of the Universe or the individuals we meet every day in our lives:

– the employee, boss or peer whom we yelled at in a moment of tired frustration;

– that child to whom we were listening, but they let their voice drop off to silence without our acknowledging them because we were too busy thinking about what our next, pressing, all-important task for tomorrow was;

– the parking lot attendant who was hoping to hear a single word of kindness from at least one of the 57 antsy drivers who poured past her station in the municipal parking lot downtown. She caught your eye for a split second, but you were late for your appointment. So instead of a smile, you glared right through her – and she motioned to you with her hand to move on, to get out of the way for the next angry driver behind you.

Can Everyone Be Forgiven?

Could it be that the Day of Forgiveness means that everyone, every human being on earth, has access to a virtual reset – a chance to start the year over, to making another, better go at it? An opportunity dangled in front of their faces – for free?

It follows that if God is busy forgiving us on the Day of Forgiveness, maybe we could forgive those who have wronged us, unintentionally or intentionally, throughout the year? Hey – if they had the proper attitude, maybe they could find it in themselves to forgive for all the junk we shoved past them this year?

‘Yup, bubba – all is forgiven. Start over; start with a clean slate.’

Could this mean that we can actually forgive ourSELVES? You know – that pile of things sitting in the back of our mind, that we did either unintentionally or intentionally – the things we’ve been kicking the daylights out ourselves for days on end, months – maybe even a lifetime?

What About The Hopeless Cases?

Does this mean that not just ‘good’ people can get forgiveness too? What about ‘bad’ people – those in prison, rotting away for crimes they committed long ago when they were young, things they have regretted for the better part of their lives? Theoretically, every human being who has ever had a glimpse of the error of his or her ways and has regretted them can be forgiven.

Could Benedict Arnold or Adolph Hitler be forgiven posthumously? What about the people behind weapons development programs aimed at nations that they view as threats to their wellbeing or pride? How about Assad Junior, that grand butcher of his own citizens?

What about Ahmadinejad? Could even HE be forgiven?

Yo, Mahmoud: tomorrow, you are scheduled to speak at one of the highest bully pulpits in the world, at the United Nations. It will be Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. You’ve got your fingers on the buttons of the long-range missiles pointed at everyone you fear. What would you do, knowing that God and others really were willing to forgive you for the blind hatred you pump out? Would you reconsider?

Would you accept an invitation to come to – Jerusalem?

[Hear Ki Mitzion – From Zion,

another gem by Yonatan Razel].

A successful and meaningful Day of Forgiveness to all.


About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.