HHD Reflection 5777 – Day 8

Sam Alston, LJY-Netzer Movement Worker
High Holy Days 5777


Every year I find the part of the Rosh Hashanah service where we confess our sins pause for thought. ‘We have offended and betrayed; we have robbed and slandered; we have been perverse and corrupt…’. We then go on to list of a whole list of sins some quite egregious. When we say it as part of my synagogue community or as an LJY-Netzer community I always look around and wonder who here is the robber, who is the murder. However, I wonder if I am taking the portion and the confession concept too narrowly.

On our summer camp Machaneh Kadimah, we read the Torah portion Shoftim (Deuteronomy 17-20). This portion talks about the avengers of blood, a rather scary term for people who avenge their family members. The portion talks about the right to kill those who have unintentionally taken the life of your family member. A person seeking this vengeance is known as the avenger of blood and they can bring down death on the murder of their family member unless the person makes it to one of six cities of refugees.

A few years ago on Machaneh Kadimah, Rabbi Leah Jordan introduced us to a piece by the philosopher Levinas that argued that this is not an obscure piece of Torah applying when we have fatal accidents involving axes.

He argues that this applies to anyone who is ‘unintentionally the cause of someone’s agony’. He writes of all of the advantages available to us in the Western World; ‘Are there not, somewhere in the world wars and carnage, which result from these advantages’.

We live in a world where just driving a car contributes to changes to changing our global climate change, which fuels wars and poverty. Our smartphones are often made of materials from mines that destroy the lives of the local people around them and are made in factories that drive their workers to suicide. This passage reminds us that our lives are, in too many ways dependent on the oppression of others. No longer, in our globalised world, as in Jonah, can wickedness be confined to one city. Instead it is part of a system that makes hypocrites of us all. We are benefiting from a system that is ‘obstinate vicious and destructive’.

Every year we gather on the high holy days and promise to do better for ourselves, to try to improve our own lives in our actions towards those around us. To ensure that the direct impacts of what we do are positive in the coming year and to apologise for when we have fallen short.

I will be thinking about how in the coming year I can not only improve my behaviour to those around me but also improve my behaviour to those who live on the another side of the world and whose names I will probably never know.

However, I will take comfort in this that I am not alone. Part of the power of the high holy days in the knowledge that we are not called on to reflect and change alone.

LJY-Netzer tries to bring young Liberal Jews together and help them meet their aspirations not only for themselves, but also to improve the world. During the high holy days we are joined by Jews of all stripes all around the world as together we are all pledge to create a better world in the coming year and say ‘We have offended and betrayed; we have robbed and slandered; we have been perverse and corrupt…’

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