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Forgive and Forgetting on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Essay

‘The nature of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur suggest that we must forgive and forget.’ During the month prior to the festivals, many rituals occur, in an attempt to wipe ones record free of sins. However, some could believe that the two festivals should not be the only time for this, and in some circumstances we aren’t able to repair our sins. The 1st of Tishri comes after the month of Ellul. Ellul is a time we Jews must spend preparing ourselves for judgement by correcting wrong doings throughout the year and getting ready to renew our promises to God for the New Year. Rosh Hashana falls on the 1st and 2nd of Tishri, and Yom Kippur preparations begin on the 9th however the festival begins the next day. The two festivals can be referred to as ‘Days of Awe’ – two stages in the process of judgement; G-d valuating our wrong and right actions over the year, and atonement; to be forgiven or pardoned. It is believed that upon this day, annually, G-d takes note of every person’s bad deeds to then decide what will be their fortune in the coming year.

Furthermore, a ritual named Tashlikh helps us reflect even more. Families go to a nearby stream where water flows, and empty their pockets into the stream, as if to cast of their sins. This practice occurs because of the passage in the book of the prophet Micah, which tells us to ‘tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’. It helps to feel as if you have let everything go and are just a new pure self. Rosh Hashana literally translates to ‘head of the year’ and it can also be known as the Jewish New Year. It is the first day of the year, and Jews want to begin it with a fresh start and a clean record and not still have to be suffering for small things we accidently did. The word Teshuvah can be translated to ‘return’. This signifies that one may return to their original state. Every Jew must do Teshuvah, and in the Tenakh is state a whole day should be spent doing it.

There are four steps of which we must do, 1. Leaving the Sin and stopping it occurring. 2. Regret, we must be genuinely ashamed and embarrassed of our actions. 3. Asking for forgiveness, if it was a personal sin we declare this forgiveness to G-d. If we did however do it to another person, we must ask them for forgiveness. 4. Acceptance for the Future, to accept that one will never commit the sin again. This process makes amend to our fresh record for the year, and repairs relationships between friends as the Teshuvah process shows great sincerity and apology. Moreover, series of prayers take place during the month of Ellul which go by the name of Selichot. These prayers ask for forgiveness, the Shofah accompanies the prayers to announce the coming of Rosh Hashana.

There are other prayers asking for forgiveness, however we must request forgiveness personally not just in prayer. Judaism states that the Book of Life is the book in which God records the names of every person who is destined for Heaven or the World to Come. According to the Talmud it is open on Rosh Hashanah, as is its analogue for the wicked, the Book of the Dead. For this reason extra mention is made for the Book of Life during Amidah recitations during the two festivals. People wish to prepare themselves to have their name in the book of life, which they do through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippurs forgiveness practices. On the contrary, some sins are too great to be forgiven.

Murdering, committing adultery or idolatry are the 3 unforgivable sins are some may find it impossible to forgive people for doing it. People may apologise with their greatest sincerity, but the one whom they apologise to may not be able to accept their apology. In addition, some people may forgive however ‘never forget’. Some may feel this could defeat the point of Yom Kippur as it is to cast away ones sin, but if a person still remembers what the person may have done then it is not as if the sin has left them. Likewise, some people may feel that forgiveness is limited to only this part of the year.

This could lead to people committing sins daily and leaving them all unresolved till the month of Ellul arrives, where they must ask for forgiveness from the many people they have done things to over the year. Or people may even feel they could treat people however they like and do whatever they wish, believing that in Ellul they will be able to set it all right. In conclusion, I believe that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur should be seen as a time to forgive and forget. We are given a chance to make everything right so there is no reason not to, and if G-d is judging us it makes it more important to apologise at this time. However, I do not feel that this should restrict us from apologising in the rest of the year and leaving people upset for months until you reach Ellul.


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