Sunday, October 5, 2008

Is this just assimilation?

I started going to the annual Rosh Hashannah services when I began dating the partner; last week was the ninth such service I've attended. Now, in a normal worship service, the rabbi says, "Turn to the people who surround you, the people to the left and to the right of you, the people in front and behind you, and wish them a Shabbot shalom" (a restful Sabbath). Not an instruction I ever wrestled with. But in the Rosh Hashannah service, the rabbi says, "Turn to the people who surround you... and wish them l'shana tovah" (happy new year). The entire time there was a little voice inside my head babbling, "Don't wish them a happy new year! New Year's isn't for another three months! It's not New Year's! Don't do this, you'll sound crazy!" I did it anyway.

Last week, the voice didn't make an appearance. I was so comfortable wishing people a happy New Year I even did it in the lobby before and after services. Is this a theological step for me? I'm not sure. Maybe it's just an example showing that if you repeat something often enough, you will start to believe it. Maybe by returning to this service year after year, I gave myself aversion therapy to my discomfort with this phrase.

But maybe it is a growth of my faith. This week is the Yom Kippur service (Day of Atonement). At Yom Kippur, the rabbi says, "Turn to the people who surround you, the people to the left and right of you, the people in front of an behind you, and ask for their forgiveness." Talk about awkward. But this year, I've experienced how the service can open my eyes to how my actions hurt others. And I attended a discussion group on the Jewish approach to forgiveness. I feel like I've studied and understand and agree with the reasons for this instruction. I think I will be comfortable asking my neighbors to forgive any wrongs I may have done to them, even unknowingly. And repetition doesn't explain this one: this will be only my third Yom Kippur service (as opposed to number nine for Rosh Hashannah).

Most of my life, I've been involved with but passive about religion. This whole looking forward to a major holiday service is a completely new (and positive) experience.

And to any readers I may have: for any wrongs I have done to you in the past year, for any hurts that I have caused, I am sorry. I apologize from the bottom of my heart. Will you forgive me?

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