After Yom Kippur

Today was one of those perfect Vermont autumn days, with cool temperatures, warm sun, and a cloudless, profoundly blue, sky.

Last evening marked the end of Yom Kippur and the High Holy Days, and we found ourselves attending services at a local retreat center, nestled deep in the woods overlooking the lake. As the sun settled over the mountains the Rabbi reminded us, yet again, that we all sin and really ought to see others through the eyes of compassion. All this was well and good, except the week’s news had been filled with the racism, bigotry, and selfishness of our leaders, and I was in no mood to see them as kindred, or even human.

We were also reminded that the children of Israel understood themselves to be “chosen” and to have a unique relationship with the Creator.  Listening to the liturgy’s searching for understanding of the covenant between the Jewish people and the Creator, I found myself contemplating the simple fact that many Indigenous peoples understand themselves as The People, as persons chosen to maintain a continuous relationship with All That Is; surely we are all born from, and as, chosen people and must embrace the immense task of maintaining holy traditions even as we recognize that all people are also chosen and all traditions contain the sacred.

As the service rolled along, filled with singing and chant, the light slowly fading, I found myself struggling to extend compassion to those whom I dislike and whose actions I resent and fear. Their insistence on building a useless, environmentally and socially destructive wall, and refusal to aid the people of Puerto Rico continued to grate at me, even as I found myself embracing the Rabbi’s logic.

The background music to all of this was the weather of the week, a week in which we witnessed four record hot days in a row, each of which exceeded the previous record by several degrees. (It didn’t help that we also experienced a stretch of record high temperatures earlier in the summer.) Further complicating the situation were many days of dry, even arid, conditions that seemed to desiccate the landscape before our eyes, dryness that turned some leaves from green to brown before they simply dropped to the ground, never achieving autumn colors.

So there we were, wrestling with the necessity of atoning, saying goodby to the Sabbath, and attempting to have some empathy, if not compassion, for the people whose behavior threatens our well-being and the very future of our children and grandchildren. Soon enough the sun set, the service concluded, and we found ourselves sharing wine and food with the other congregants. Today, we are still mulling things over.

Now, a few minutes past sunset, the orange glow slowly leaching from the sky, the conundrum posed by the Rabbi, and generations of Rabbis, remains. We are required to act on behalf of our neighbors, the planet, and the future, yet we are implored to do so with compassion.  We are to be visionary in our defense of justice and righteousness, and to open our hearts to the suffering of all others, even those whose views we oppose.

These are large demands, more so in the aftermath of the genocide against Native people, slavery, and the Holocaust. We, as a blended Jewish and Native family, will no doubt continue to grapple with all of this for some time.


11 thoughts on “After Yom Kippur

  1. I know I fall short of forgiving 70 times 7 as the Christian Bible instructs us to do. I cannot in good conscience have compassion for those who will not take responsibility for wrong doing, if compassion means looking the other way as people are hurt. Yes, I grapple with the need for compassion but I also know that I feel guilt and shame over the times when I haven’t spoken out when people have been abused. I wish the people in power would just play nice, Michael. I admire your ability to write on these troubling political times in a measured and compassionate tone of voice – even though I know inside you, too, feel angry. I’m afraid to write because I want to rant and scream and curse, and I don’t want to risk hurting people who can get caught in the cross-fire, including those who I believe made a mistake at the voting booth. And my apologies to your Rabbi for possibly speaking at odds with the good message he gave. 🙂

    1. Pat, yes, I am angry and sad and scared. I think my Rabbi would laugh. By the way, we attend services at two congregations, a result of the strange history of our local community. Perhaps for the first time, there are now women Rabbis at both congregations! Anyway, our abbi would undoubtedly laugh!
      I think there are simply more injustices than anyone can address. I’m practicing taking the long view, although with limited success. Perhaps the simple truth is that most people have lived their lives (throughout human history) in the crossfire. There seem to have been epochs of relative peace, at least at the local level, and to live then was a boon. Then there are groups that have been relatively immune to the damage. We seem to be in a time when those who have avoided being targeted must step up if we are to survive in any human sense of the term. We can each do only what we are able, so truly need the entire community to pitch in.

  2. You communicate the challenges so well Michael.

    I have struggled with the same issues.

    Maybe it’s old age, maybe it’s being tired of the fight, but I am learning to be more conciliatory and forgiving.

    A Catholic nun once told me that forgiveness of others is an act of compassion to yourself.

    I am eager for a follow-up post to read your further exploration of this topic.

    1. Oh, Tree Girl!Life is so filled with conundrums! One of my tasks is to encourage clients to avoid forgiving until they are truly ready to forgive. There is often a rush to forgiveness, a sort of mad drivenness to let go and be done, even before one is healed enough to actually let go as much as one may. I think we have gotten to the place where the goal is a Calvinistic task! Maybe we can start by forgiving ourselves and working slowly out?

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