Politics may be the Shabbat table or watercooler topic of the year — or maybe it’s not, as emotions are so heated that civil and casual conversation have become ever more difficult and elusive. But it is worth remembering in these Days of Awe that the liturgical themes deal less with the attributes or deficits of others, but rather our own. And the prayers and reflections have less to do with national or international concerns than our internal mysteries, our personal relationships, our characteristics that no one may have seen, except that impeccable journalist who most accurately inscribes all our deeds in the Book of Our Lives.
While the overwhelming number of spiritual misdemeanors that lead us to “clop” our hearts in remorse on Yom Kippur are personal ones, there is the belief that nations are also judged in these delicate times. Nations, of course, are comprised of its citizens, of us. Much as our personal year may have seen moments worthy of remorse, it is possible that even the finest among us have been more harsh than necessary in the judgment of our fellow Jews or fellow citizens who have made choices — religious, political or personal — that we may not share but were well-intentioned, honestly arrived. Name-calling and negative branding have become rampant. The swiftness and the harshness of our judgment is hardly the due process and decision that we’d hope for from the Heavenly Court. Somehow our own motivations seem to us pristine, but perhaps those with whom we disagree have a decency at their core, as well.
The one thing certain is that this is the time of year when humility and penance must return to the fore of our consciousness and communication. This is a season when each of us is obliged to be uniquely aware that we all have the option in our personal or public conversations to be inclusive rather than insulting, healing rather than hurting, and forgiving as we would like to be forgiven.
On Rosh HaShanah we cast our sins into the water symbolically, and hope the waters soften them, along with our certainties that isolate or humiliate. On Yom Kippur we open our hearts and seek forgiveness, a clean slate. It’s a blessing we tend to take for granted. In the age of the Internet, our foibles, once public, are forever searchable, an eternal embarrassment. But Judaism believes in new beginnings, one of Heaven’s most generous gifts. Let’s give that gift to each other, and to ourselves.