I used to attend services at Temple Beth Shalom, in Hamden, Connecticut (on Whitney Avenue). It was a conservative synagogue. At the time I was attending, Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic was presiding (and still is.) I remember one of his Yom Kippur sermons especially, but I also remember the prayers from the prayer book. Only once a year did they use those particular books, or only on the high holidays.
Temple Beth Sholom, Hamden, CT.
There was a confessional portion which I always found stunning. The reading calls on the congregants to acknowledge the sins committed against others, but then adds a confession, “but no one have I sinned against more than myself.” It was a litany of self-revelation in form. Forgive me for defrauding others, but no one have I defrauded more than myself. Forgive me for lying to others, but no one have I lied to more than myself.
I thought again of those passages this Yom Kippur, 2012. I have been sick for several weeks with a sinus infection of some kind. I have been up a lot at night, long hours. I have done a lot of praying. On September 23, the seventh day of Rosh Hashanah, I posted that I was now praying for my enemies, from the heart. I said that I have never, ever done that before.
Last night, late, I realized something about that new experience. I now have to make a “confessional.”
The reason I am able to pray for my enemies is probably simply because the professional success I am having now is such that they cannot injure me as they have done in the past. I am moving beyond their influence. Therefore, I have a certain freedom to address their crippled, deformed souls.
There is a transparent weakness, then, in this matter. Praying for your enemies when they’re crucifying you is one thing; praying for them when you are resurrected is another. I doubt I could have ever prayed for them when they were causing pain. But now that the pain is subsided, I can afford to pray for them.
See? It is not righteousness, at all. It is just human, spiritual groping again. Reaching out for some semblance of imaginary godliness. Praying for enemies, from the heart, is indeed liberating. I benefit immediately from that. I will continue to practice this divine statute. Who knows, it might benefit my enemies themselves. This would be miraculous. I would rejoice greatly.
But, I was disappointed in myself to realize that I was praying because I could afford to pray. I am happy to be praying, but, there can be no self-congratulation for some noble, daring discipline. I am without nobility, certainly. This came not really a surprise, but just an unexpected disappointment, normal as it is. Praying for my enemies was such a novel discovery to me, I forgot that it is a revelation, not an a achievement. It is simply a new, deeper duty I have of late learned.
From the old days, but the same issues.
The revelations of the Ten Days continue. I know that the disgust, the outrage, the hatred I feel toward my enemies is not mine to own. Yet, I can’t not feel that way toward them. I can choose to pray for their souls, however, knowing that their sins, their repugnant, repulsive, low characters and slavish emotional vices are precisely those for which the Lord gave Himself as an offering. (Isaiah 53:10). From those abject miseries and their eternal consequences the Lord calls my enemies (Isaiah 45:22). And I am called to beseech His mercy in their behalf (Leviticus 19:17, 18, 34).
So I commit myself to devotion to the redemption of my most disgusting foes. I am no longer concerned with my own feeling of outrage at their revolting aspects. I rather concern myself with their salvation.
At least, these are my thoughts and intents this Yom Kippur, 2012. I’ve never held these purposes before. That’s all I can say. These prospects have come to me during this must unusual season.
Many people probably already know about these dimensions. I am perhaps somewhat spiritually retarded, and maybe even foolish for talking publicly about it. But, because I have said so much, publicly, I have to acknowledge, publicly, my errors when I realize them.
I turn from my own sense of justice, and from vengeance, and turn to the way of God–which is mercy, and devotion to the redemption of lost souls. “To Me belongeth vengeance and recompense,” the Lord said to Moses (Deuteronomy 32:35). These things are not mine to dole out.
Yes, I’m sure I will continue to experience what it called “righteous indignation,” (not because I’m righteous, but because I value and sacrifice for righteousness), and I will continue to be outraged, repulsed, revulsed, and disgusted. But these sentiments are no blessing to me. And, I do not see that they have been effective in changing anything in my enemies.
When the holidays are over, and I resume my address of worldly affairs, politics, and human concourse, I am expecting a different style of expression, one much more accurate, more direct, and more lethal, as it were. The din of rancor is but the bread of the damned, not the reward of the victor. “Where is the outrage?” many conservatives love to cry out, when witnessing the appalling character and behavior of liberals. “Where is the outrage?”
Mine shall be transformed. I, for one, will find a better, more effectual voice. I pray it be so.