Just barely one week before the High Holidays begin to usher in yet another new year for us all, let’s attempt to understand what lies at the heart of the concept of repentance and forgiveness, which are the key themes that are the focus of so much of the liturgy for these days.
The Ramchal, Rabbi Chaim Luzzato, writes in “The Path of the Upright,” that we are faced with a conundrum: How is it possible to ask forgiveness for and extirpate the wrong deeds committed during the year? It’s the kindness of God, he responds, who views all sins as potentially deleted if our teshuvah (process of repentance) has been a deeply felt and there’s been a sincere attempt to rectify our misdeeds. It must be driven by our acts of kindness and chesed that flow out into the world and embraces others with empathy, understanding and compassion.
The weeks leading up to the High Holidays have been horrific ones with a confluence of weather conditions that have conspired to bring so much destructions and despair in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. The bigger picture also has included catastrophic flooding in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, which has upended over 16 million lives. Yet, the focus has been on America and what can be done to alleviate the suffering of the people in the South. More so has been the descriptions of wanton acts of heroism and generosity that has taken hold of so many.
It has been a total eclipse of the bad that so much good, chesed and caring has shone bright and proud as simple, ordinary people rose to the stratospheric heights of extraordinary greatness.
We are really, all of us, heroes, who do go out, not to inflict hurt on others, but try so hard to impose a focus of goodness and hope toward so many. Baltimore’s Jewish community is filled with people who head institutions that care for the sick, the elderly, the battered, teenage children and those who cannot easily have children, and countless others just commit random acts of kindness toward others. The truth is we are all heroes, who, being mortal, just make mistakes. We only stress the bad we have committed during the year. But we need, for the sake of honesty and transparency, realize that we have also littered our year with acts of chesed that should fill us all with hope for the future.
To all you heroes in Baltimore, and the greater environs of America, this should be a New Year filled with good health and blessings to you all.
Chaim Landau is a past president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis and rabbi emeritus at Ner Tamid Congregation.