Tonight marks the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In my last blog entry, I wrote that the Ten Days of Penitence, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, are a time for soul-searching, and for repentance – not just for our own sins, but for those of the community as a whole. We are all responsible for each other, the Torah teaches us. "No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Thus wrote the poet John Donne.
True, each one of us makes his or her own choices. But how can we know in what way something we ourselves said or did, influenced the choices or the actions of another? How can we know if a careless word did not wound or cause harm in ways we never imagined? Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hacohen Kagan (known as the "Chafetz Chaim") wrote a whole book (by which name he is known) on the importance of guarding one’s tongue. "Who is the man, desirous of life, who loveth many days that he may see Good? Guard thy tongue from Evil and thy lips from speaking guile. Stay away from Evil, do Good, seek Peace and pursue it." (Psalm 34).
We have all fallen into the trap of speaking evil at one time or another, whether it is the newspaper reporters who are quick to accuse, to spread rumours, to put people on trial in the Press before all the facts are known, or whether it is the private citizen, people like you and like me, who are quick to spread gossip, to apportion blame or to utter a harsh word without thinking how the seed may take root. We need to remember – just as a word of encouragement at the right moment can save a life, so the wrong word can push a fellow human being over the edge.
I have done my soul-searching and I think I know what is my besetting sin. I know what I need to correct in the coming year.
We are taught that Yom Kippur does not bring forgiveness from God, until we obtain the forgiveness of those whom we have hurt. So I would like to take this opportunity to send a message to all those I may have wounded or offended, whether intentionally or unwittingly, to say I am sorry and to ask for forgiveness.
גמר חתימה טובה לכל בית ישראל