When we sin against another person, we sin against ourselves - Sermon for Yom Kippur morning 5781 (2020)
If I were to give you the choice, would you choose to spend a day with the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, or comedian Ricky Gervais?
Let me guess! I am sure that most of you would choose to spend a day with Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus! Am I right?
You see, your choices might not be apparent to me. We think that we know a great deal about each other, but we don’t because most of the time, we guess and use our conscious or unconscious bias to make judgments about other people.
When most of us spend hours on the social media of our choice, we might not even come across what other people, different from us, think or believe in. It is not that we are not aware of each other, but today we have a choice either to block each other on Social Media or never engage in a controversial conversation.
In the PC world we live in, it is difficult to know what can offend whom, so it is easier to stick to the sources you know, people who think like you do, and talk to people who share your views and beliefs. I found a good joke about sin to share with you to uplift your spirits after a long service. Then I started to think who might be offended by it and decided that it is safer for me not to joke at all.
We are told we live in a very polarised world today. Some of us think we should wear masks, some of us think we should not; some of us support Conservative and some support Labour, pacifists or militarists, individualist communities or community-spirited individualists; Pro-Palestinian or Pro-Israeli, secular or religious. Add a few religions to the list above and a few denominations within those religions as well and Oi Vei. The division between us, different groups of humans, will have no end.
Today, we cannot afford to be divided. If we are not united we cannot solve the problems we face as humanity - poverty, social and financial inequality, Climate Change, Eco-Crisis, slavery, refugees, loss of freedom, and the current Pandemic
The world is on fire. Literally and figuratively: Brazil, Australia, and California literally. America, Belarus, China, North Korea, Israel, Iran, Russia, and Syria – to mention just a few countries - figuratively. I would add the UK to the list as well.
Indeed, different polls suggest that we live in a more polarised society than ever. But tell me - when weren’t we polarised? We are told by the polls that we are polarised, and one of the conclusions I draw therefore, is that we can’t work very well together with other people.
Albert Einstein said: "The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe." So, it is OUR choice to be polarised or to be cooperative, to be friendly or be hostile towards other people, even when they might annoy you a lot. It is our choice what difference we can make to our world, our life, our community, or the life of other people, but it is really hard to make a difference without the support of others.
Our congregation proves that polarised people can work very well together if they have a shared purpose, shared values and beliefs. I can tell you that we are a very polarised Congregation and with every opinion represented in between those two poles as well.
Theoretically, we cannot function as a united entity. But just pause for a moment and look at what we have done together as a small but strong-minded community of people who have been united with a shared purpose.
Professor Bruce Lipton says: “Nature is based on harmony. It says that if we want to survive and become more like Nature, then we actually have to understand that it is cooperation versus competition.” It means that we are stronger when we work together and not against each other; we are stronger when we pray together, not fight with each other.
We are stronger when we confess together because we realise our responsibility for each other and our wrongdoings.
I knew that Judaism was way ahead of its time when we introduced communal confessions in our tradition on Yom Kippur.
One of the most powerful moments of Yom Kippur for me is when we recite our many prayers of atonement together. We are a community of individuals, leading very different lives, but coming together to face our most intimate and yet very public act of confession. Admitting that we are wrong is a crucial mechanism of personal growth and self-awareness. Doing it together gives power to our words and our thoughts.
In his book, Professor Bruce Lipton remarks that “Quantum physicists abandoned their belief in a Newtonian, material universe because they had come to realize that the universe is not made of matter suspended in empty space but energy.”
This statement means that our world consists of energy and invisible energetic connections between us and the world.
This revolutionary statement strengthens Philosopher Arthur Green’s interpretation of the Shemah when he says that ‘God is One’ means the Oneness of Creation. We are all connected with each other, and the whole world is One Big interconnected Oneness.
We sin against You when we sin against ourselves, says one of our prayers. I interpret it as when we sin against others, it is as though we sin against ourselves, when we sin against ourselves, we sin against others.
This beautiful connection between us makes us realise how the consequences of our actions are much closer to us than we ever thought before. When we wrong others, it is when we also wrong ourselves. Our communal confession is an essential illustration of that connection between us. Our sins and wrongdoings – whichever you prefer to call them - affect each of us regardless of whether we are on the wronged or the wronging side of the deed.
The words we say do matter, so our communal confessions help us to shape what sort of individuals we want to become.
“We are after all communal beings,” Rabbi Larry Hoffman remarks. We are here today repeating the words of our ancient prayers together, and our lengthy confessions repeated over and over again through the day not only help us to believe in the redeeming power of their words, but also make us think about what sort of community we want our Congregation to be.
Today, it is our chance to repent sincerely so that the deeds we are not proud of and which caused harm to others will not be repeated again. Because when we wound others, we wound ourselves. Today, it is our chance to forgive others because when we forgive others, we forgive ourselves. Today is our chance to let things go and start anew.
So we can start a new year afresh cooperating, understanding and being compassionate toward each other, thus bringing much needed changes into our own lives and the world.
I wish you well over the Fast and have a meaningful Teshuvah.