In the last few years, Britain has found itself in a state of parliamentary stalemate and political rupture as it seeks to fulfil the mandate of the referendum to leave the European Union.
The High Holy Days and its process of teshuvah, returning or atonement, is first and foremost relevant to an individual reflecting on the vagaries of the past year.
It is true there is much good in each one of us, but we become poignantly aware of time and talent wasted, of being so much less than we know we might have been.
The gift of the preparatory month of Elul and the first 10 days of Tishri (including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) present the ideal opportunity for self-reflection, including making good those damaged relationships, approaching and apologising to those whom who know we have offended, forgiving those who may have wronged us, and finally approaching our Creator, the Eternal God. As Midrash declares: “Open for Me one gate of repentance by as little as the point of a needle, and I will open for you gates wide enough for carriages and coaches to pass through.”
This process of returning to God and to our better selves is described by the English term “atonement” or “being at one with oneself”.
How so for the nation at large, which is far from being at one or at ease with itself?
A robust democracy does not require everybody to agree; indeed it requires passionate disagreement.
Nevertheless, the capacity to reach a resolution, the humility to accept defeat, and the manner of how the debate is conducted are also signs of a healthy nation.
I’m reminded of the Talmudic schools of Hillel and Shammai which, by all accounts, rarely agreed and frequently engaged in tortuous and lengthy explorations of issues.
In spite of so doing, the Talmud (Eruvim 13b) recalls that, concerning a dispute which lasted three years, the views of both the disputing parties are Eilu v’eilu divrai Elohim chayyim hayn (“these and these: both are the words of the living God)”.
How much more at ease would our nation be with itself if debate could be conducted against such a backdrop of mutual appreciation of contrary views.
- Danny Rich is Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism