I heard a rabbi claim that G^d loves us so much, He will never punish us. Rather, he claimed, when we misbehave badly, He hides His face. And then He lets chance hurt us as penalty. Not! This is nonsense in so many ways.
- He might hide His face for us, but He doesn’t stop looking at us. As my rabbi said it: He peeks at us through his fingers. Maybe it helps my rabbi that we are in Israel and see G^d’s hand everywhere and all the time. The rabbi that I quoted above lives in the Diaspora. About Jews living there, Nachmanides held: He who dwells outside of the land of Israel is like one who has no G^d. Sounds like it.
- The Maimonides took as one of his thirteen basic principles of Jewish faith: belief in Divine reward and punishment. Admittingly, it is hard to imagine how G^d, Who made us and loves us and has endless patience and energy, could punish at all. But then try: cleansing. Or better: Deterrence. Don’t deny G^dly retribution.
- It’s true that the Bible rhetorically asks: “Does bad emanate from above?” It implies that it doesn’t. Anything bad, we cause. Although it does say that bad and good do need Divine authorization.
- The Sages give various examples of irresponsible conduct (that we should not use to condemn people) that could make it seem that G^d abandoned us. When we could protect ourselves but don’t even attempt to, why should He? He doesn’t want to foster spoiled brats.
- Rather, when we act badly enough, we might end up feeling as if G^d hid His face from us, meaning: as if He ignores us. That is not a punishment from Him. That is our self-inflicted lot. He’s waiting for us to return to full communication. He never goes anywhere. (He is everywhere already.)
On Yom Kippur, we excessively admit to our collective sins. But, we pound our bend-over chest to take it to heart, just in case we also did some of this. G^d gives us a chance to admit, regret and repent, to receive a fresh start without old culpability. This is a great gift.
Even if we only fast (if we may), He will forgive it all.
An important part of the prayers is that we beseech G^d to show clemency, to move to the seat of mercy.
- But proper Jewish Prayer is self-reflection in the face of G^d.
- Yesterday, I got the strong impression that we don’t try to ask Him to sit in mercy, but rather, that we were trying to accept mercy ourselves. Mercy for ourselves and others. To see how far we can forgive while calling a sin a sin.
- Not in the classical-Christian sense that we forgive everything while seething from anger and bursting out in mass-murder every so often.
- One component of this outlook that helped me see this is the realization that G^d’s strictness is mercy too.
- One heavy-handed example. The death of people is the worst evil there is. But, if people would never die but do get sick, later age groups need to take care of dozens of generations of ancestors. How could we ever raise our children sufficiently? Now life expectancy has improved, we already have the sandwich generation, squeezed between taking care of its parents and children. On top of the promises that death will end and the dead will be revived, human death is merciful, while we’re still becoming sick, crippled, and dependent. Doctors work on ending all sickness. Hang in there.
Why do we ask G^d to have mercy on us for our sins in the evening prayer after Yom Kippur? He just forgave us everything. We feel cleansed. Is this not a wasteful prayer—we are not allowed to utter? No, certainly not.
- Are you happy the Day of Atonement is over? Sin.
- Are you sad it’s over? Sin.
- Do you now again rush through the prayers? Sin.
- Do you feel invincibly righteous now? Sin.
- G^d can only forgive sins regarding Him. But damages that we perpetrated on others, first need their forgiveness. Do you read papers? Do you follow the news? Do you know what mess the world is in? A billion people don’t have enough food every day (not just on Yom Kippur). Pollution is endangering our survival. And you refuse to be an activist and are just seeking comfort. Is there a greater sin?
- While we ended Yom Kippur, others in other time zones are still in the middle of it. Their unforgiven sins count too. Let’s not be so self-absorbed to assume that it’s all about us.
Have a great year, all of us—and them.