Notes from the Jewish tradition that may be helpful to people in every tradition and to people who need to connect to ancient spiritual wisdom
WHAT MAKES THE Jewish approach to repentance and atonement relevant to North American and global politics is that it does not focus only on the ways we as individuals “sinned,” (actually, the real meaning of the word sin is to miss the mark; not some sense of being drenched in evil, but just getting off course) but rather recognizes us as part of a community for which we must take collective responsibility.
North Americans are so used to the extreme individualism promoted by capitalist values that we rarely think of ourselves as having responsibility for each other. But that is precisely what is needed. So we at Tikkun, the interfaith and secular-humanist-and-atheist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls, have developed a set of confessions in the form of “we have sinned when . . .” that mention many things that you personally may never have done, but which are taking place in and through the social, economic, and cultural arrangements in our society for which we have communal responsibility.
We suggest that you bring together people in your friendship circle, and encourage them to sit together some day or evening and read these aloud, and afterwards talk about which make most sense and which someone has difficulty with. This kind of practice could be an important first step in creating a different way of approaching our problems that speaks more to the heart and reaches deeper into our inner being. And the discussion that it generates might be the first step in creating a different kind of culture within liberal and progressive circles. A new culture is exactly what is needed to offset some of what has made liberals and progressives unpopular with a significant section of American society, a section whose support we need if we are ever going to make the fundamental changes needed to end racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental irresponsibility, militarism and vast economic inequality.
When your group (could be as small as three or as large as twenty) assembles, take turns reading these out loud and wait until they have all been read. Break down into small groups of three people each to discuss their reactions to these ideas and to suggest what they’d add that isn’t here and what they’d want to eliminate that is here.
Try it; you might be surprised at how much impact this little exercise can have even with people who normally seem shut off and unlikely to share their fears and hopes.
For Our Sins as Individuals and As a Society
Everyone reads this together: We take collective responsibility for our own lives and for the activities of the community and society of which we are a part. We affirm our fundamental interdependence and interconnectedness. We have allowed others to be victims, subject to incredible suffering; we have turned our backs on others and their well-being—today we acknowledge that this world is co-created by all of us, and so we atone for all of its miseries and injustices.
While the struggle to change ourselves and our world may be long and painful, it is our own struggle; no one else can do it for us. To the extent that we have failed to do all that we could to make ourselves and our community all that we ought to be, we ask each other for forgiveness–and we now commit ourselves to transformation this coming year, as we seek to get back on the path to our highest possible selves.
The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. To subscribe to Tikkun, click here. You’ll then be able to click here to read an HTML version of the article, or click here to read a PDF version of the full article.