Yom Kippur Drash

Yom Kippur 5774 – September 13-14, 2013

“If Every Wrongdoing is Missing the Mark, Our Professional Aim Could Use Improvement”
By Rabbi Rochelle Robins, AJRCA Dean of the Chaplaincy School and Director of Clinical Pastoral Education


A friend recently commented that when she described a significant misdoing to her spiritual leader and sought to be held accountable, she was instead encouraged not to be too self-deprecating, to allow room for her own humanity, and to accept that she was no more responsible than other involved parties. This response provided her surface comfort.  Yet she also felt it was trite and lacked a degree of compassion for her concern. She asked me, “Wouldn’t it be truly compassionate to entertain the possibility that I might benefit from growing?”

Living in a world in which we estrange ourselves from pain, our contemporary teachers and rabbis frequently remind us that the word sin in Hebrew literally means missing the mark. Is this a method to calm us from the fear that our wrongdoings might bring a negative decree upon our lives and souls? Does this method obstruct our sitting with others and mining the depths of our actions and pain? This teaching about the word sin is true if we’re discussing the word chet, yet there are other kinds of transgressions and words for sin that weigh more heavily.

Compassion is essential in all healing, whether the sin is in the category of pesha, an intentional rebellious act; an avon, a wrongdoing which stems less from rebellion than it does from uncontrollable urges and desires; or a simple chet, straying from the path of precision and rightness.  Talmud, Masechet Rosh Hashanah 17b, mentions the Creator’s thirteen attributes of compassion and mercy, to which we ourselves can aspire to uphold and live by. The majority of transgressions, aside from one or two, are forgivable to the extent that if teshuvah, repentance,is sincerely sought, the sin itself may become meritorious (Sha’ar Hagilgulim, Rabbi Chaim Vital in the name of Rabbi Yitchak Luria).

Thinking of our wrongdoings as missing the mark allows room for compassion to enter ourselves and our relationships with others. However, focusing only on this form of transgression minimizes our need for deeper reflection in the company of others. There are occasions when it elevates compassion to invite our congregants, students, and loved ones to explore the reality that their actions travelled far beyond the category of simply missing the mark. Inviting people to share at this level may be more demanding for us, yet the invitation is capable of opening pathways to wholeness. This is a sacred aspect of our role in people’s lives.  

My friend’s commentary is worthy of consideration. Our kindness and compassion hold prominence in the healing process. Perhaps we can stay in the conversation longer, and explore actions that hold more significance to the person than simply missing the mark as in a game of archery.    

The Haftarot of Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kippur Minchah are concluded by the reading of Micah 7:18-20, which poses the question of “Who is a G-d like you, who forgives iniquity and overlooks transgression for the remnant of [your] heritage? [G-d] does not maintain anger forever but delights in kindness.”  Throughout our High Holy Days liturgy, compassion and mercy reign over wrath and indictment.  Our liturgy tells us that t’fillah, teshuvah, and tzedakah are actions we can take to restore ourselves.

As spiritual leaders, we have the ability to assist someone in transforming their transgressions into merits. Our new AJRCA motto is “Transforming the Jewish World.” This might mean feeling a little uncomfortable at times as transformation is both arduous and joyous. Let’s transform the world gently, lovingly, and steadfastly. Let’s delight in kindness as we witness those in our care evolve! Tzom kal v’gamar chatimah tovah!

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