Karen Wolfers Rapaport

Yom Kippur and the Art of Self-Forgiveness

In Judaism, holidays are designated with their own unique energy. On Purim there is deep joy. On Passover, there is the liberation that accompanies freedom. And on Yom Kippur the world is aglow in the new light that emerges from forgiveness.

It is true. Forgiveness is at everyone’s disposal throughout the year. But Yom Kippur is etched in time as the day of forgiveness, and it is on this day, where this sacred act is at its most effective and powerful.

On Yom Kippur we confess and regret the intention and unintentional mistakes we made throughout the year.  We acknowledge that we are not perfect. We have foibles. We have pitfalls. We are human. No one’s immune.

We acknowledge, and then we express the willingness to change the choices that led to negative consequences….We are ready for an about face

Yes, God wants change. But from my understanding, God is not out to get anyone on this day. In fact, He wants to empower us. This sense of empowerment is grounded in the belief that the prospects for personal change have not yet been depleted.

On Yom Kippur, we plea for God’s forgiveness and believe in God’s love. But also, and most touching, we actualize our personal power and alter our lives for the better.

We are taught that God believes in free choice. He believes in change. He has great faith in people, in their ability to refine and develop…but do we believe in ourselves?

Believing in yourself begins with forgiving yourself

Jewish men and women praying together for forgiveness (Selichot), at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 24, 2014.(Times of Israel/Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

But self-forgiveness is not a simple task. Mistakes often hold hands with guilt, and shame. It’s easy to be ensnared in the past. So how do we start the process of self-forgiveness? How do we tap into this Yom Kippur gift?

Here are some suggestions to reflect on:

  1. Understand that you are not defined by your mistakes. They are not your identity.

Mistakes are something that happens, not something you are.  Yes, you are a daughter, son,  mothers, husband.  Yes, you can be kind, assertive, and eager. But you are not that woman who is always late to appointments. You are not that man who can be passive aggressive with our spouse. Those are actions, those are choices. Some choices are not beneficial. So we change them, and make better ones. Mistakes are meant to show us where the cracks and gaps in our choices are. We can never be perfect but we can strive to be the best versions of ourselves by working on our choices.

  1. Let people in, be vulnerable, and communicate with those you trust.

Mistakes can leave an open wound that would be unwise to ignore. Without recognizing lapses, the wound can fester and take longer to heal. Just unloading our feelings out loud puts the information somewhere besides our brain. It gives it a rest, so you can look at it more objectively, more at a distance. Supportive feedback and the recognition of our efforts to overpower guilt and shame, can take a huge burden off of a guilt-ridden self.

  1. Adopt a mantra.

Choose an appropriate phrase and repeat it, without fail, every time you feel guilty for mistakes. An example could be, “I didn’t know what I know now. Now that I do, I will make a different choice.” In this way, you are not only telling ourselves the truth, for you aren’t the person anymore who committed a past misdeed, but you are also giving your brain positive information. This will help to wean it off the old wiring that keeps sabotaging the new.

  1. Be proactive. Begin to make alternative choices.

Get out into the world. Love in action every day. Do kind for others, be kind to yourself. You manipulated people, be transparent. You angered quickly, be patient. You regressed…progress. Be the change that you strive for, not just in words, but through deeds. Act, internalize, and see your transformation manifesting in reality.

Remember that Yom Kippur is a day of empowerment. Use its power to close the circles, cut the loose ends, bask in renewal and…… forgive oneself.

About the Author
Karen Wolfers Rapaport is an educator, therapist , writer, and proud mother. Leading groups throughout Israel, she integrates psychology, philosophy, and language instruction for college courses and clients that include the Office of the Prime Minister , Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics , Intel, Mobileye, and Yad Vashem. Karen is also a featured writer for several Jewish websites. She is passionate about unifying people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and creating transformative experiences.
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