Warning – I am just a gentile who enjoys reading wikipedia, so if I misstate something, send your angry letters to wikipedia, please!
So here goes….I have always had a lot of respect for the deep sense of tradition inherent in Judaism, but I never once thought, hey, they do things better than us, Catholics. I mean – Christmas vs. Chanukah? No contest. Easter vs. Passover? Easter has chocolate and fuzzy bunnies. Passover seems like a lot of work and I like bread, although chopped liver on matzohs is pretty good! Again, easy decision.
But yesterday, I was trying to get my fall Jewish holidays straight and I naively said to my boss, “Wednesday is the sad holiday, right?” I mean Day of Atonement just sounds sad and I knew there was some fasting involved. Big bummer, right?
But she said that was a limited view and didn’t take into account the time leading up to Yom Kippur. Then she said something that wowed me. I am paraphrasing here, but wikipedia backs me up. She said that God cannot forgive you for sins you have committed against other people.
Wow! Think about that. I know that a lot of religions talk about the importance of forgiveness, but my experience with forgiveness in Catholicism (all 21 years of Catholic schooling) has always focused on confessing my sins to some priest and asking God for forgiveness.
I think in like 2nd grade they start shuttling us into church to tell a priest about everything we did wrong and to ask for forgiveness. I never really understood this. If I had really done something I felt bad about, what good was telling this guy? Why couldn’t I talk to God directly? How was praying meant to relieve my guilt? And let’s face it, when I was 7, I had nothing to feel guilty about. I trotted in each time with the same tired list of “sins” (I talked back, I was mean, etc.) – just enough sins to sound real, but not enough to make me sound too bad. Even Last Rites makes it seem like you can be a dick your whole life, end up on your death bed and go “oh shit, now I am really sorry” and be okay in the end.
It makes so much more sense to focus on the people you wronged. To sincerely go to them and try to make things right – three times, no less! A paltry mumbled sorry or talking to some priest is not going to cut it. And if you kill someone, you can never be forgiven, because they are no longer alive to forgive you.
I can’t help but wonder if more religions held this belief, would the world be different? Would there be less religious terrorism? Religious wars? In this sense, Judaism definitely got it right!