Yom Kippur: Not Guilty!
Saw this comic strip in my local paper a couple of weeks ago and it hit me as a perfect illustration of the dichotomy that Yom Kippur represents. Simply put, Judaism believes in both these philosophies, and doesn't see them as contradictory at all. On the one hand, chazal instruct that one should repent "one day before s/he dies" - i.e., every day. And during the High Holidays, teshuvah - repentance - becomes our main focus.
On the other hand, we view this process as an opportunity, not a chore - as cause not for sorrow, but for celebration. As we are told at the end of tractate Yoma (8:9):
"Rabbi Akiba said: Fortunate are you, Israel! Who is it before Whom you become clean? And Who is it that makes you clean? Your Father Who is in heaven!"I wrote quite a bit last year at this time about my fervent dislike of the concept of "Jewish Guilt", in a post here, and more extensively in comments on a Mirty post. Unfortunately the latter are no longer available (any chance for a link, Miriam?), but I think the way I put it there was that I view the proverbial "Jewish Guilt" as literally an anti-Semitic slur, just as insulting and pejorative as our alleged big noses, cheapness, and the like. There is nothing positive, and certainly nothing Jewish, about guilt. Guilt is paralyzing, disabling. It says: "I'm broken, and I'm supposed to feel bad about it rather than fixing it." It is the path towards despondency and despair.
This so-called Jewish Guilt is supremely un-Jewish.
Teshuvah is not guilt. To be sure, teshuvah begins with remorse, with regret for our past wrongs and misdeeds, towards God and towards our fellow man. But teshuvah means that these regrets are only the starting point, that rather than wallowing in our guilt, rather than being stuck in the past, we have the chance each year to wipe the slate clean! Teshuvah is about second chances, about commitment to change and grow, about moving on. It's the opposite of guilt.
May you all have a productive, guilt-free, repentant, and joyous Yom Kippur!