Whilst studying in Manchester, I was invited to experience first-hand the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur. We met in the Synagogue on Friday evening and I had one of the most moving spiritual experiences of my life. An elderly member of the family sang the Kol Nidre. It’s hard to describe the feelings it generated because the song is so closely associated with Atonement that it invades all the spiritual senses – especially those connected with forgiveness.
Very few people get through life without hurting someone else as a consequence of a decision or mistake they have made. Or, being hurt by the actions and decisions of others. Life is like that. It has a way of presenting us with options and sometimes we get it wrong and someone else gets hurt. Sometimes we get it right but someone else still gets hurt. Having the opportunity to sit down with that person ( or write them a letter) and asking for forgiveness ( or offering it) can generate all kinds of healing. Hearing the words “I forgive you” takes the experience of healing that much further and moves it into the space called cleansing. Confession brings healing. Forgiveness brings cleansing.
In essence, this is what Yom Kippur (Atonement) is all about – healing and cleansing. But it goes beyond the personal to the whole religious community. Kol Nidre is an Aramaic declaration and more ‘law’ than ‘prayer’. But it has solemnity. It has weight.
I was most moved when ‘my’ interpreter explained what was going on and spoke the words very quietly in my left ear. The part I remember most was when the leader and the congregation said three times, “May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault.” The leader then said :”O pardon the sins of this people, according to your abundant mercy, just as you forgave this people ever since they left Egypt.” And then the leader and congregation said together three times, “The Lord said, ‘I pardon them according to your words.'”
Any ceremony that promotes healing and cleansing in a way that enables people to feel whole and restored and good about themselves has something going for it.
Leviticus 16: 1 – 10 + selected verses
Mark 2: 1 – 12