|100,000+ Copies of NIF Newsletter “Atonement” Distributed Throughout Israel|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
In light of increasing attacks by Jews on Israel's minorities, and the need to undertake a national soul-searching ahead of Yom Kippur, we bring you an article about national responsibility specially written for Yom Kippur entitled "Atonement requires actions, not rhetoric" by Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.
This was part of a collection of articles about atonement compiled by NIF in a magazine called "Kapara Alenu," which was circulated to 100,000 Israeli families as an insert in the Haaretz newspaper, as well as on the web and through mailing lists. The articles related the Jewish theme of atonement, to other contemporary social issues such as the protests for social justice, and to women's rights.
Atonement requires action, not rhetoric - Gilad Kariv
At the climax of the morning prayer services on the Day of Atonement, our liturgy brings us face to face with the complex, involved atonement rituals as practiced in the Tabernacle and the Temple on that day. The Torah portion of Aharei mot ("After the death"), in Leviticus, which is read on the morning of the holiday, recounts how Aaron, the high priest, brother to Moses, fulfills the commandment of atonement for the first time, following upon his own personal tragedy, rather than as part of the Holy Day's ritual. His two sons, Nadav and Avihu, lost their lives at the height of the festivities celebrating the dedication of the Tabernacle, after offering "foreign fire" as a sacrifice to God.
We do not know precisely what that "foreign fire" was. A number of commentators have suggested that the brothers’ actual sin was hubris, a defiant, exaggerated sense of self-confidence. Nadav and Avihu were not trying to defile the Tabernacle. Yet, since they were of priestly stock, they thought their power needed to know no bounds. Their act did not stem from evil, but it did express complacency, indifference and arrogance.
Since 1973, The Day of Atonement is inextricably linked to the bloody war that left some 3,000 bereaved families in Israel, and an entire nation broken. Just as Nadav and Avihu committed the sin of hubris, so too did Israeli society learn the bitter price of exaggerated self-confidence and the elation of the victorious. During the six years immediately after the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli society preferred to turn a blind eye, to wax nostalgic without giving a care for the future, while refusing to engage in soul-searching or to entertain doubts. Tragedy lurked just around the corner.
The story of Israeli society prior to the 1973 war is that of many societies which preferred nostalgia for a glorious past to engaging with the present, with all its dangers and opportunities.
The Torah tells us that Aaron was struck dumb by the tragedy. A little later he officiates at the complicated atonement ritual in the Tabernacle by carrying out a series of ceremonial actions symbolizing an attempt to restore order and atone for sin and error.
Without detracting from the theodicy and acceptance of one's fate inherent in Aaron's actions, those same actions contain a valuable lesson on how one should regard one's own life and experiences.
Through his actions, Aaron acknowledges that above all, man is called upon to subject his person and his actions to self-interrogation. Too often, we ask: “Where is God?” We don’t ask often enough: “Where is man?”
Aaron, by his actions, teaches us that the cry of "God, why?" cannot remain our sole response to difficulties encountered along the way. Rather, we must find the emotional fortitude to repair what is in need of repair, mend what gets broken.
Aaron's silence, his turning to actions, tell us that words alone cannot serve as an adequate response to a reality in need of healing. It is action, especially action that assumes responsibility and signifies commitment, that can change reality. Words may be a starting point – actions bring about change.
It is said of Rebbe Nahman of Breslov that he was once asked how to "strengthen faith, so as not to be weakened by the multitude of wrongs and damage we inflict by our actions; to which he replied: 'If you believe man can inflict damage, believe too that he can repair it.'" (Stories of Rebbe Nahman, II:112)
The Day of Atonement and the commandment of atonement bring us point-blank up against the necessity of assuming responsibility for events, of comprehending that we generate reality by our actions, and therefore, that we cannot be content with words or with deafening silence. Yet at the same time these hold great promise; namely, that anyone who so wishes can act - and thereby generate change. While the Day of Atonement recalls our wrongs, it also holds the promise of our ability to affect repair.
Rabbi Alan Miller, one of the first leaders of Reconstructionist Judaism in the U.S., was once summoned urgently to the scene of an accident where a bridge had collapsed, killing young people. The rabbi addressed his congregation as follows: "A bridge collapses during a storm, killing countless innocent people. Spiritual leaders of this or that persuasion may try to find theological justification for such a tragedy, but we know that the real question is: how do we build bridges that will not collapse?"
After a summer of many words and actions designed to atone for severe errors on the part of Israeli society and its leadership in recent years, and at the start of a new year filled with challenges, dangers and opportunities, the Day of Atonement serves as a reminder of our duty to build sturdy bridges; of words, but primarily of actions: bridges connecting individuals to each other, connecting individuals to the world, and connecting nation to nation.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv is Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.