Another successful (hopefully) Yom Kippur has passed without much fanfare and only the slightest afternoon headache. For 25+ hours, Jews around the world spend the day in reflection and ask for forgiveness from God for any and all sins committed during the past year. We are so deep in prayer that food and drink are the furthest things from our minds (for the most part) as we fast to show how committed we are to our atonement. We recite countless “Aveenu Malkainus” to cover any possible sin we may have committed. In some cases, we simply go along with the prayer book and ask forgiveness even if we are not sure that we have sinned through “conspiratorial glances,” “succumbed to confusion,” or acted with “baseless hatred.” Children sit quietly alongside their parents and we mix in a few additional prayers just in case “playing on an iPad at services” is considered a sin. At sundown, we offer thanks that we have made it through another Yom Kippur, hopeful that we have been inscribed into the Book of Life for yet another year. And then we gorge ourselves with bagels, blintzes, noodle kugel, Mom’s homemade mac and cheese, and other dairy delicacies. (We will seek forgiveness for the “gorging” in another year.)
The Rabbis explain that on Yom Kippur we seek forgiveness from God, but are still required to approach our fellow man directly to repent for any harmful actions we took against them. Perhaps we missed a neighbor’s son’s Bar Mitzvah because we wanted to watch a football game instead. (Should the neighbor apologize for interfering with the game?) Perhaps we cancelled a trip to Chuck E Cheese because, well, because it’s Chuck E Cheese, and made up some lame excuse that somehow shifted the blame to our kid. (Is that a sin or just effective parenting?) Perhaps we totally disrupted some friends’ party through an “accidental” action and took no responsibility for the resulting fiasco that could have cut the evening short and left a home in total disarray. (That seems as bad as conspiratorial glances.)
A NIGHT TO (MIS-)REMEMBER
While my memory is not what it used to be, I have been unable to shake the events of a certain Saturday night from this past summer. In fact, I have played out the evening over and over again in my head and have been awoken countless times in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. The night started out like any other. We were invited to a party at the home of some dear friends who we see very rarely these days. They have college-aged kids and ours are “a few” years younger, so we do not run in the same social circles these days. Thus, our excitement to celebrate with some of our “older” (longer-term) friends for a change.
Upon arriving fashionably late (us usual…I’m sure I was watching a ballgame), my wife and I mingled through the crowd, exchanging pleasantries with our friends; catching up on their lives, kids, and work; and double-dipping a few chips in the queso (perhaps I needed one additional Aveenu Malkainu for that one). After a half hour or so, we met up again in the back of the house and decided to give ourselves a self-guided tour. We started with the downstairs playroom which overlooked the backyard. We admired the fun décor, both inside and out, and made some mental notes for our outdoor addition (our pool is officially open for biz, just in time for fall and winter). With a staircase close by, we hurried to check out the upstairs as well. Not wanting to be missed from the party for too long (not really sure we were missed at all), we quickly opened a door with hopes of finding a media room or something equally exciting.
ONE DOOR TOO MANY
Upon opening the door (I believe my wife opened the door, by the way), two humongous dogs darted past us and quickly ran down the front staircase, on their way to join the festive party in progress. The screams and even some hearty laughs started immediately so we took off in the opposite direction to descend the back stairs from which we had initially climbed. We found ourselves alone again in the playroom; the commotion in the front of the house was well-apparent as nervous guests ran about, unsure of what to do. We stood there in shock, again (seemingly) admiring the backyard patio furniture as if we were oblivious to the excitement around us. Our hostess emerged in a flash, yelling out her dogs’ names, only to find two incredibly guilty-looking souls inquiring about decorating tips. “Have two dogs run through here?” she exclaimed in passing, as she avoided our decorating questions altogether. We answered in the only manner we could “What Dogs?” until she disappeared into the distance, leaving us alone with our thoughts about the “sins” we had just committed.
The party continued and the dogs remained guests for the duration as they were too large and too fast to catch and take upstairs (not that we helped). The bad news (OK, the worse news) was that no one was able to leave dinner plates laying around as the dogs would have devoured leftover chicken bones, sushi, and even double-dipped chips and queso. The good news is the hosts probably had a far easier time cleaning up without plates left scattered all around (you’re welcome). When we left the party, my wife and I could hardly make eye contact with the hosts as we said our goodbyes. We made a pact never to speak of this episode again, never to reminisce about it even to each other. I began having nightmares almost immediately. Did anyone see us marching up (or down) the stairs? Did our friends have a video camera that captured all the gory details? Did the video camera catch my double-dipping the queso throughout the night?
The high holidays arrived and we finally had the opportunity to repent for the sins of the past year. First and foremost on the list were the events of that fateful night. We also knew that we may run into our friends as they not only attend the same synagogue, but also take a leadership role in one of the main services. (Do “spiritual” leaders have a higher standard for forgiveness?) For two days, we spoke endlessly of repentance, atonement, and forgiveness. We listened to the wise Rabbi’s remarks as he preached “coming clean” about our past transgressions and reminded us that praying to God was not enough, but we were required to make good with our past mistakes to any friend or family member we may have harmed. At times, his words appeared to be directed right at us and I felt that he made constant eye contact with me throughout his sermon. I even believe he made some reference about coveting or letting out a neighbor’s dog, but my wife swears that he was speaking metaphorically about something else.
I avoided my friends, the party hosts, at all costs. Usually, I seek out those older (rather, long-standing) friends whom I see so rarely these days and attempt to catch up briefly while on bathroom breaks. This year, I noted where they were sitting early on and made sure they were well situated in the service before taking my much needed hiatus. I kept my head buried deep inside the prayer books, only occasionally glancing at my daughter’s Minion Rush score, to ensure that they did not spot me staring at them. The Yom Kippur service ends each year with a parade of children marching from the back of the sanctuary to the pulpit, where a congregational leader blows one final ceremonial blast of the shofar (ram’s horn) to commemorate that another Yom Kippur has ended and the Book of Life has now been sealed. My wife and I accompanied our kids on this march and extended very hearty “Shana Tovas” (Happy New Year in the Hebrew calendar) as we hugged and shook hands with friends and family members.
A CHANCE MEETING
All at once, I looked up and was standing face-to-face, eye-to-eye with my friend, my host from the summer affair. She gave me a warm hug and wished me a happy new year. I reciprocated (I think), but undoubtedly had the exact same guilty look from two months before. How lucky was I? This was surely a sign. Yes, this was my moment to repent, to beg forgiveness, to recount the story, to explain how wrong we had been, perhaps even to share an “awkward” laugh. I was hungry; I was thirsty; I was tired; I had a headache. But all that could wait and I could end Yom Kippur on a positive note, the most positive note. Then again…
The night was getting late and we had our respective “break fasts” to attend. I wanted to tell her my story, but I didn’t want to make her late for her meal. I wanted to unburden myself, but my wife and kids were well on their way to our car and I couldn’t keep them waiting or arrive late to my mom’s house, where the blintzes were surely getting cold. In the end, we both headed our separate ways.
Once again, I had another sleepless night (though it may have been that I was overstuffed with mac and cheese). I thought and thought about our chance meeting. I replayed the Rabbi’s messages over and over again in my head. I remembered how he said that seeking repentance from God was not enough, but I still needed to approach my harmed friends with my sorrowful message. Then again, I don’t recall the Rabbi ever saying anything about not asking forgiveness “via a blog?” So consider this one additional post-Yom Kippur Aveenu Malkainu.
“For all these sins, forgiving God (and dear “old” friends), forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.”