Atonement

Every year around this time, I go through a little crisis of faith. See, after Rosh Hashanah, the new year, comes Yom Kippur, the day of atonement (a friend of mine once described it as “Aw, you brought me flowers, how sweet–okay, what did you do?”).

Now, the rule is that before you can ask forgiveness of God, you have to ask it of the people that you’ve hurt over the past year. And atonement doesn’t just mean rote apology; ideally, you have to change your behavior, make reparations, in some way undo the harm or make sure it won’t happen again.

I have two problems with this. The first is that more than half the people I’m close to are not Jewish. So I have to think every year, “Okay, do I risk making this person uncomfortable by involving them in a foreign religious ritual, or do I decide that this part of my faith should just be a rote ritual I do with my family that doesn’t affect the rest of my life?” If the person is important enough to me, I usually at least try, and try to couch it in terms that they’ll be less uncomfortable with: “I know this seems odd, but it’s a part of my faith, and I like to use it as a chance to check in with the people I care about, and you’re one of them.”

The second problem is more difficult to overcome, and every year it brings up a lot of tension for me. The problem is that most people I’m close to are really happy with our relationship, and the question of whether I need to make reparations to them just brings a smile to their faces. And then, rarely, there are the really troubled relationships where either I’ve hurt this person and they do NOT want to talk to me or they’ve hurt me and aren’t sorry and I do NOT want to open myself up to the kind of abuse they might unleash on me. So it often feels like the only times this ritual is really warranted, it’s just going to cause them or me more pain without leading to constructive change.

I think this year I’ve been pretty lucky, in that I’ve been working on those relationships already, so there’s some groundwork laid. But I think I need to change the question I’m asking. Instead of, “Is there anything I’ve done in the past year to hurt you,” I think it needs to be more mutual, something that says I’m willing to listen to whatever they want to say, but also leaves room for me to respond, to talk about the hurts *I* need to let go of.