A High Holidays Proposal
Rabbi Milton Steinberg, in his book, "Basic Judaism", tells an old rabbinic tale of three survivors in a lifeboat. Each huddled on his bench and fearfully eying a stormy sea that awaits their flesh like the whale awaited Jonah. One guy suddenly whips out a drill and starts boring a hole in the hull. The others scream and shout into the wind and rain, "Mishugenah, what are you doing?"
"Oh don't worry," he replies, "I'm only drilling under MY seat."
Such is the state of Judaism on the High Holydays of 5760. Somewhere in Proverbs it should say; "He who bores a hole in the Ark of Judaism will drown us all".
Now it's Yom Kippur and our tradition reminds us that forgiveness for transgressions against humanity comes only from humanity. Not G-d. We Jews, huddled on our frail raft, need to face our shipmates and ask their forgiveness for tons of Loshen Hara, for insults, and yes, even for violence.
Talking to HE who decreed the days of awe is praiseworthy. Prayer is balm for the sin-sick soul, but the problem is here in the boat - not in the heavens.
We don't get ten minutes into the morning service on Yom Kippur before we encounter a Talmudic precept that tells us, "But Yom Kippur can bring atonement for transgressions between one person and another only if the person offended has first been reconciled". The meaning is simple; ask forgiveness of your victims.
Therefore, I propose an exchange of pleas and pardons between the major branches of Judaism. The mechanics would be simple.
A) The rabbis of each of our branches would elect a single representative.
B) These 3 leaders would meet in a hotel room in Manhattan. (Rather than argue about which branch will pay for the room - put it on my credit card.)
C) The meeting, of course, will take place on a weekday in-between mealtime. (The last thing we need is a discussion of the menu.)
The room will only contain a round table surrounded by chairs for the peacemakers. Besides the table and chairs, however, the room is full of kavannah - the spirit of pious passion that rabbis typically urge upon us - from their High Holydays Bimah. I leave it to your imagination to deduce who would pump up the room with this essential ingredient.
A large poster above the door to the room and on each wall says, "WE ARE ALL JEWS". Agreement with these four words is the only precondition to the business of the meeting. It is not to be discussed, only affirmed.
Furthermore, there shall be no discussion of any ancient or modern issue in Judaism. Not the divinity of the Pentateuch, the Talmud, the Midrashim; nor the composition, origin, or authority of the oral and written law. There shall be no discussion of Halacha as it relates to Kashrus, Shabbos, gender, or sexual practices.
In fact, there shall be no discussion of Judaic issues. However, if the rabbis like, maybe to reduce the tension, they can discuss rabbinical topics like salary, housing, fringe benefits, or the hyper-critical, unappreciative nature of their respective congregation. Surely, a safe point of commonality.
Now, gentled and inspired by the dew of kavannah that freshens the room, each in turn they beg supplication from their fellow Jew. Each petitioner for forgiveness - for that's what they are - will arise and address the following request to his fellow petitioners. "Please forgive me and those whom I represent for the sin which I have committed unto you and those whom you represent. We have sinned against You through foul speech, and we have sinned against You by not resisting the impulse to evil. We have sinned against You by fraud and by falsehood, and we have sinned against You by scoffing."
"Forgive me for the sin of slander. Forgive me for the sin of greed. Forgive me for the sin of pride."
How appropriate to the Yom Kippur purpose of repentance. The very act - the speaking of the words of repentance - gentles the rambunctious human spirit. The holy heart and the helping hand live in one body. They strengthen one another. One of our sages tells a rich man - don't give $1000 to charity - give $100 ten times. More repetitions. Like you build biceps in the weight room with ten reps rather than one.
So why not? Three leaders around a table sometime between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. Who would deny the rubric above the door? I'll pay for the hotel room and He who made Jew and Gentile will provide the kavannah.
It is time for such a reconciliation. If, as the Chasids believe, we only exist in the mind of G-d, about now we must be giving Him an incredible headache.