Happy Jewish New Year – לשנה טובה

2018-9-10 (5779-1-1) – Happy Jewish New Year (and to my friends who think I’m waging war on Christmas, Merry Christmas). I wish you the best for the coming year and apologize for all the ways that I have failed you in the past year. (I even apologize for the sarcasm in the last sentence.)

In my youth I used to spend hours in the synagogue at this time of year. I loved hearing the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn). And I learned a lesson about our responsibilities to our neighbors in the world. Each year we reflect on how we can do better in the coming year.

I no longer go to the synagogue, but I do value the teachings of personal responsibility. And when Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Day) arrives, as it did today, I always look at the prayers of atonement as a framework for reflecting on the past year.

The season of atonement, which really began last month, but kicks into high gear today culminates in 10 days on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). On that day, a communal confession of sins is recited. Everyone confesses to the same catalog of sins. But, of course, the confessor knows which ones pertain to them. Here is a link to the confession as it appears on the Chabad website. In my view, it is up to each confessor to fill in the details. (This is a pretty good list for self-reflection—until it gets down to the Temple rituals. Not sure that I’m going to be able to repent and be able to bring a burnt offering in 5779 and I wouldn’t even want to. But the rest is worth thinking about. Check it out.)

In the past year, our society has committed the sin of hard-heartedness (2nd item on the list) against those who are different from us. This certainly has been a grievous sin. I have committed myself to doing what I can to fight this—through my writing and through direct political activity. I have fallen far short of what I am able to do. I hope to do better in the coming year.

But I want to talk about a more grievous sin that is rampant in our country: that is the sin of hard-heartedness against those who are like us—but not quite. People may be against immigrants and other minorities. And that is bad. But they reserve their greatest rage for their own brothers and sisters, parents and children, aunts and uncles and cousins with whom we have the slightest disagreements.

You know this is true. In a couple of months, social media will be filled with discussions on how to avoid conflicts at Thanksgiving Dinner. A month later the stories will be repeated with advice on how to get through Christmas. What is going on?

This is really not a new problem. The book of Genesis, which many see as a tale about the creation of the world, is really a story about families—families that don’t get along all that well. One brother murders another. One father sends one son off to die and the next day takes his other son to the mountain to sacrifice him to his god. Another brother steals another brother’s inheritance. Another group of brothers sells one of their own into slavery.

We do this to our own.

Leftist Dems despise centrist Dems with greater furor than they despise Republicans—and vice versa. The same thing happens with Republicans. And even between parties, we are supposed to be one nation.

If we can’t love ourselves, how can we love our neighbors as ourselves and how can we love the stranger?

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