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September 26, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Lets us remember to love your neighbor as yourself

By Rabbi Daniel Treiser Temple Bnai Israel, Clearwater

These High Holy Days are filled with some of the most beloved, most well-known prayers. That’s due in no small part to the melodies that accompany them. Kol Nidre, Avinu Malkeinu and Shema Koleinu, each evoke a special connection to these sacred days with both their words and their beautiful melodies. There is another set of prayers that is an essential part of my holiday observance since my childhood, even though there is no melody to kindle my memories.

The Vidui is the selection of the Yom Kippur liturgy where we confess the sins of the past year. It is composed of two major sections: Ashamnu (“We have sinned”) and Al Chet Shechatanu (“for the sin we have committed…”). Interestingly, both are said in the first person plural – WE committed these sins. At a time of personal reflection, it seems odd that we confess them together. When I was younger, I remember thinking, “Why am I saying I did that? I didn’t!” The reason for this is threefold. First, our community is also responsible for seeking forgiveness, and very often we as a community make these mistakes, so we must confess them together. Second, there is anonymity in confessing with the congregation. I can admit out loud I committed a sin, without being embarrassed that I am the only one confessing it. And third, it allows us to seek forgiveness for a sin we might have committed and do not remember. These prayers remind us not only of our actions, but of the importance and necessity to be a part of a community at this holy time of year.

Ashamu is an alphabetical list, with sins listed from Aleph to Tav. In the Reform movement’s machzor Gates of Repentance, there is an interpretative translation that attempts to capture this unique trait, listing a variety of “modern sins” in alphabetical order as well. The line that captured my eye as a child and still does to this day is, “There was violence, weakness of will, xenophobia.” (Gates of Repentance, p. 270) Xenophobia, the fear and hatred of others who seem foreign or different from oneself, seems all the more prevalent today. We’ve come to view the world through ideological, political, and ethnically polarized lenses. It has become more and more acceptable to believe that if I’m right, then you must be wrong, especially if you’re different from me. That polarization leads us to disrespect, hatred, and even violence. We’ve seen it in the political rantings and ravings on the news. We’ve been reminded of it once again as the victims of a new wave of anti-Semitism rose in Europe and around the world this summer. And we’ve succumbed to many of these same thoughts as we watched Operation Protective Edge occur and as we plan for attacking ISIS.

That’s not to say either of these operations are wrong. We must remain strong and vigilant in the defense of Israel against the Hamas terrorists. Nor can we turn a blind eye to the dangerous threat that is inherent in the doctrines of ISIS. Yet at the same time, we must be careful not to paint an entire people with broad strokes of hatred and wickedness. The great Sage Rabbi Akiva taught that the greatest lesson of the Torah is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)

As we enter the year 5775 and pray for a year of peace, safety and security for us all, let us be mindful of our own words and deeds. May we resist the xenophobic urges within us and strive to see the humanity within all others, in our community, our country and indeed around the world. G’mar Chatimah Tova – May we all be Inscribed for a Good Year.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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