Some would say I’m crazy, but Yom Kippur is my favorite holiday. There are no laughs to speak of. Nor is there any good food. In fact, there’s no food at all, or water. But I do enjoy the opportunity this holiday gives me every year to address God and confess my sins. That’s right, boys and girls; my mother raised me with a healthy sense of guilt … and then some.
Yesterday, one of the things I atoned for the most was being overly self-centered. And in that regard, I couldn’t help but notice that virtually every statement of repentance in the High Holidays prayer book is written in the first person plural, not the first person singular. In other words, we are encouraged not to express what we as individuals have done wrong (or failed to do right), but how we as a community have fallen short. Better yet, I think, we should atone for how we as a species have fallen short.
The list of human sins during the past year is seemingly limitless. And when the sins are expressed in general enough terms – as they are in my prayer book – it is amazing how many of them apply to most of us. Just as a sample, “We have sinned against life by failing to work for peace. We have sinned against life by keeping silent in the face of injustice. We have sinned against life by ignoring those who suffer in distant lands. We have sinned against life by forgetting the poor in our own midst. We have failed to respect those made in the image of God. We have withheld our love from those who depend on us. We have engaged in gossip and in repeated slander. We have distorted the truth for our own advantage. We have conformed to fashion and not to conscience. We have indulged in despair and trafficked with cynics. We have given meager support to our Houses of Study. We have neglected our heritage of learning. We have sinned against ourselves and paid scant heed to the life of the spirit. We have sinned against ourselves and have not risen to fulfill the best that is in us.” And that’s just page 404 of The New Union Prayer Book. There are plenty other pages where that one comes from -- plenty of reminders of just how inadequate human beings are, Jews are, and each of us is as an individual.
Yet despite all the pain I was feeling about the mess we have made of this world, there were times yesterday when I put that aside and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Because this week, something really, really good was being played out on a world stage. And it might make next Yom Kippur so much more manageable and so much less frightening. I'm referring to the latest development in that crazy soap opera entitled "As Syria Turns."
It was just last week that I was providing one reason after another to oppose a Congressional authorization of force against Syria. And my post was, in no uncertain terms, a rebuke of the way the President has handled this situation. But look what happened in the past several days -- Obama’s waffling threats of force, as bizarre as they might have appeared to folks like me, turned out to have worked (apparently). We can still criticize the President for his thought process. We can still compare him to a quarterback who, on first and ten, recklessly throws a long ball into double coverage down the middle of the field. Sometimes, though, those passes are completed for touchdowns, and when they are, you’ve just got to sit back and applaud – because a touchdown is a touchdown. In this case, when you reflect upon the prospect of a deal in which the threat of force by President Obama brought sufficient fear to the hearts of Putin and Assad that Syria is on the verge of giving up its chemical weapons, you’ve got to simply raise your hands straight up in the air. Because this is the diplomatic equivalent of a touchdown. Or so it appears at present.
I have long ago learned in life that it is better to be lucky than good. And while it is also true that “we usually make our luck,” sometimes in life fortune inexplicably smiles upon us. I will leave it to the President’s amen chorus and inveterate haters, respectively, to debate amongst themselves whether he made his luck in this case or simply had the gods smile upon him. As for me, to quote another Democratic politician from the previous century, “I’m just pleased as punch” that the President brought Assad to the table and a stockpile of chemical weapons may be headed for destruction ... and the United States might not be getting involved in war after all.
That Democrat was, of course, Hubert Horatio Humphrey – a man who knows something about stupid wars. If he were around today, I’m sure that HHH would be patting the President on the back right now. But I also know what he would say to me: “Why are you typing about religion and politics when the Vikings game is about to start?” And to that question, I would have no good answer.
So, if yesterday afternoon was full of fasting, contemplating, and lavishing praise upon God, may this afternoon be full of eating, yelling, and lavishing praise on hard-hitting wildmen.
Congratulations to the President for what appears to be a diplomatic coup. But enough with politics and religion for the moment. I am ready for some football.