High Holidays, Forgiveness, and Cancel Culture – by Blair Becker 

There is a lot to cover during the time of the High Holidays. There are symbols, such as the raisin challah and the shofar. There is liturgy and prayer, such as Kol Nidre and Unetanah Tokef. But this year, we want to focus on “teshuva.”  

Throughout the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jewish people all over the world are called to ask forgiveness from the people that they have harmed from the past year. In Judaism, sins against other people can only be atoned for by the person that has been harmed, not by G-d. This repentance that is sought is called “teshuva.” Yet, this Hebrew word directly translates to “returning.” But why? One interpretation is that teshuva forces us to “return” to the path of righteousness and to ourselves.  

In my childhood synagogue, we sing the song written by Shlomo Carlbach during the High Holidays. The words are, “Return again to the land of your soul, return to who you are, return to what you are.” This song represents the High Holidays to me; it is a time to look inward at our essence and return to it. We have the power to forgive ourselves for our wrongdoings, and the power to forgive others for the wrong they have done onto us.  

Sins disrupt our daily lives in both small and large acts – a coffee when we ordered tea, a snide comment behind a friend’s back, or a broken boundary with a parent. These wrongdoings distort how we view ourselves, friends, families, and community members. In common practice, a loved one may apologize for an error – but is that enough? The Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is known traditionally as “Shabbat Teshuva” or “Shabbat Shuvah.” It is known as the Shabbat of Repentance. Although we practice teshuva on and before this Sabbath day, does the repentance called for during the High Holidays require a deeper attention?  

Judaism depicts teshuva in the Torah in the book of Beresihit. First, Joseph, a son of Jacob, was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. Then over twenty years later, Joseph was reunited with and forgave his brothers for what they had done to him. The brothers said, “We are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the suffering of his soul when he pleaded to us, and we would not hear; therefore, this suffering has befallen us.” Just as Judaism reminds us of our human mistakes, it also asks us to forgive when responsibility is taken and changes in behavior occur.  

Teshuva was built into the structure of our teachings and our lives. Be the change you wish to see in your community, and this High Holiday season, we invite you to continue returning, again and again.