A routine for forgiveness

Photo by butupa

Leviticus 16 mandates establishment of a holy day on the 10th day of the 7th month as the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) for sins:

And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you: for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before Jehovah.

Why? Why do we need a special day for atonement? Why wait a year? Why do we have to wait for a certain day to atone for our sins? Why not just whenever they happen?

While I believe that we should try to avoid making any sins instead of avoiding them, I find wisdom in this practice. It recognized two important aspect of human behavior. One, it is hard for us to forgive (others and ourselves) while something is fresh and salient in our minds. Second, the mere fact that there is a known process – a day each year when everybody knows that atonement is practiced makes it easier for people to forgive and to approach people they hurt. The routine, the knowledge of the procedure, helps people overcome their feelings of anger, frustration and revenge as well as shame and fear of openly discussing hurtful issues.

For a religion, it makes sense to wait a year, but I think that in our interpersonal lives, we can use a “day of atonement” every once in a while. If our families, co-workers and other people close to us know that every once in a while (in a predicted manner), there is a day that is devoted to reflecting on what we did wrong and on forgiving others, it facilitates not only important communication, but also an openness to discuss, forgive and most importantly, grow as human beings.

While I think each and every one of us should find the process and frequency that fits his or her own taste and preferences, I recommend at least considering setting up public times of atonement. It could be once a year. It could be more frequent than that. Make sure that everyone around you knows that once in a while, there is a time that allows putting past grievances behind us.



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