On this beautiful morning, seeing some of my neighbors and their families dressed up in their finest clothes and walking to and from the local synagogues in observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish days, once again I thought to myself that there needs to be a national Yom Kippur day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the entire country observed one day of atonement, one day free from everyday concerns when people could have the opportunity to just sit down, be quiet, reflect and meditate on their lives? One day when all of the noise and chatter from the competing social media outlets were still, when most commerce would stop, encouraging people to have to deal with themselves, look within and ask for guidance? One day when people would ask forgiveness from whomever they had wronged or do penance in some way? In this fast-paced world in which we live, where people are constantly juggling multiple responsibilities and commitments, wouldn’t it be wonderful to enact one day when people are forced to stop their routines, breathe deeply, and access how they are living their lives? Sounds almost heavenly.
I got to thinking about Yom Kippur in light of the recent Dallas court case where a young white female police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of an innocent black man. During her court testimony, she expressed extreme remorse and noted how difficult it was going to be to live the rest of her life knowing she had killed an innocent person. Her testimony affected many people in the court, from the mostly black jurors to the black bailiff, to the black judge, and most poignantly, the younger brother of the man she killed. In an unusual set of circumstances, not only was the sentence imposed considered by many to be too short but also, the jury, the bailiff, the judge and the younger brother of the victim, all demonstrated enormous compassion and sympathy for the police officer.
When I heard the victim’s younger brother express forgiveness and love for the police officer, it brought tears to my eyes. For someone so young to be able to see beyond his own tragic loss and offer forgiveness to the perpetrator was powerful. When he hugged the police officer I was struck with the thought that this young man’s actions might be a catalyst for change in ways he has not imagined. When the judge also hugged the police officer and gave her a copy of the Bible, it reinforced my belief that I might be witnessing a positive turning point in human relations in this country.
Living through all of the racial divisiveness across the U.S. today, how refreshing at a soul level it made me feel to witness kindness and forgiveness in a situation where these two qualities are not often evident. Yom Kippur highlights man’s need to repent for past wrongs, and to seek or offer forgiveness to others. And this is good because ultimately, forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.