It's The Season Of Forgiveness. But This Year, Not So Fast
In the pursuit of personal freedom, too many of our fellow Americans are threatening our common future.
After 22 years in business together, two brothers, once very close, had a bitter falling out and stopped speaking to each other for several years. This deeply troubled their families, so finally, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the brothers’ rabbi summoned them to his office prior to Kol Nidre services.
With great compassion and eloquence, he insisted that the brothers shake hands and make up before the holiest day of the year. After much urging, with tears and hugs, they complied.
Hours later, when the service was over, the two brothers accidentally met coming out of the synagogue. “I just want you to know,” one said, “that tonight I prayed for you what you prayed for me.”
With that, his brother glared at him and responded, “Starting up already?”
This story often evokes in listeners what my Bubbe called “a bittereh g’lechter,” a bitter laugh, a recognition that try as we might to find it in our hearts to forgive those who may have hurt our feelings, it’s not always easy.
The season of forgiveness and repentance is upon us, but this year is a real challenge. It’s not the personal affronts that trouble me. It’s the societal ones across America, and the stakes have never been higher. Day by day, the divisions among us are widening and hardening on a range of political, social, racial, medical, scientific and economic issues with profound consequences.
I admit it’s a struggle to open my heart to those who I feel are bringing us down, threatening our common future, especially since they’re not asking for forgiveness. Far from it, they are promoting exclusivity over inclusivity, damning those who disagree with them and ignoring objective reality in ways that can harm us all.
A pithy statement attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) sums up my frustrations of late. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion,” he said, “but not his own facts.”
Yet we have entered Orwellian times when words mean the opposite of what they truly represent, and the consequences are profound. Examples abound:
. A president defeated at the polls insists he won, and some states may just keep recounting last year’s ballots until his followers are proven right.
.Though seen by millions, the bloody insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, complete with a noose intended for the vice president, is portrayed as a sincere expression of patriotism.
. A president committed to uniting the country through bipartisanship is mocked as naive and feeble by opponents enacting state laws that restrict voting rights and are chipping away -- make that hacking away -- at the very foundations of democracy.
. The western half of the country is ravaged by record-heat waves and fires while the eastern half is repeatedly battered by once-in-a-century hurricanes and rain storms. Yet critics scoff at scientific evidence that warns of global catastrophe if climate change is not addressed aggressively.
. In Texas, a dangerous new law encourages total strangers to help prosecute, and profit from, a woman’s personal medical procedures.
. Leading Southern governors ban mask mandates, placing politics over health concerns even as the Delta virus fills their hospitals to capacity with Covid patients.
To those who claim their overarching concern is to preserve their personal rights and freedoms, I offer the famous Midrashic tale of a group of people traveling together in a boat. Suddenly, one man takes a drill and starts making a hole under his seat. When the others cry out for him to stop, he says, “why are you upset? I’m just drilling under my seat, not yours.”
It takes the others to remind him that the hole may be just under his seat but the water that comes in endangers everyone.
So yes, we’re all in the same boat.
We are responsible for each other. And as we enter a new year of heightened uncertainty -- still dealing with masks, vaccines, boosters and the prospect of long-term disruption -- we must try to find more creative ways to live with each other.
What has taken place in Israel this year offers a compelling model for us to consider. Yair Lapid, in an act that was both personally selfless and politically savvy, partnered with his political rival, Naftali Bennett, offering him the top spot on a ticket driven by a common desire to defeat Bibi Netanyahu. Together, to date Bennett and Lapid have surprised everyone and managed to steer a dramatically inclusive -- and unwieldy -- coalition by setting aside major wedge issues and concentrating on consensus ones, hoping to build support along the way.
Hard to imagine such political compromises working here in these toxic times. Ironically, polls show that most Americans agree on most major issues, but extremists on both sides dominate social media, undermining our perceptions of each other.
And all the while, the water in our boat is rising.
My urgent wish is that we come to realize it’s time to face reality and seek common cause before we all -- different as we are -- sink as one.
Wishing each of you a sweet, healthy, resilient and brighter year. Shanah Tovah.