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How Does Repentance Really Work By Martin Vesole
For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days in Judaism, sometimes Jews say "Happy New Year", like we all do on December 31. Sometimes we say "Good Yontiff," which is Yiddish for "Good Yom Tov," which basically means "Good Holiday." But most often, we say "L'Shanah Tovah," which means "For a Good Year" and is short for "May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life for a Good Year." According to a key prayer on the High Holy Days, we are told that on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year), it is written, and on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) it is sealed - who shall live and who shall die, who shall be healthy and who shall be sick, who shall have peace and who shall be harried, who shall die by fire and who by water, etc. etc. Pretty scary stuff, which keeps Jews coming to synagogues on those days even if they don't come any other time of the year. So when we say "L'Shanah Tovah", we are wishing someone to be given a good decree by God for the coming year. It is much more significant than the "Happy New Year" we say on December 31, where we celebrate that we are still alive at midnight to see the coming of another calendar year. What Judaism Teaches
Judaism teaches that you can get inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year by repenting of your past sins and sincerely promising and hoping to do better in the coming year. If God judges that you are sincere, He will presumably grant your wish for a good year unless He has other plans for you. A year is a long time and many things, good and bad, can happen in that time. So realistically, all we can be is hopeful that the sincerity of our repentance during the High Holy Days will have something to do with what lies ahead. However, try as I might (and it is arguable how hard I try), every year when I recite the prayers that say how "we" have sinned, I have never been able to find even one that I am not guilty of. Obviously, there is more going on here than the quality of my repentance. The fact of the matter is we don't know why we have the lives we are given. If we're lucky, we will have plenty of good to match the bad - for the bad is a given - as they say, you can't get through life without some suffering. What Does the Shalomist Believe?
If repentance is not the answer, what is? The Shalomist believes that reincarnation is a real part of our world and that we are put on this earth for the following reasons: 1) We are tasked with making our eternal souls better.
Traditional reincarnation theory says we keep getting reincarnated until our souls reached a purified state, at which point we reach nirvana. As Shalomist Jews, we believe that nirvana can be equated to Judeo-Christian ideas of heaven. Thus, we try to improve our souls until we reach a state where we are eligible to live forever in heaven and don't need to be reincarnated anymore. We don't know very much about what heaven is like, but we can trust that it is a good and happy place where we are among friends, relatives and good people everywhere. 2) We each have our individual earthly purposes for being here.
We like to think that everyone has his or her individual purpose in life. Someone might be a musician or an artist or a scientist or a peace-maker. Others of us may have more modest purposes, such as being good parents, a good friend, a good pet owner, etc. Maybe some of us are here for our 15 minutes of fame, or maybe some of us are here to be cannon-fodder in some inglorious war. Often we either know or have some idea why we are here, and if we do, then we are certainly expected to pursue that. If we don't know why we are here, perhaps it will be revealed to us and perhaps it never will. But we assume without knowing for sure that everyone here has some purpose for being here. 3) We need to help God make the world a better place.
The Shalomist believes that as we improve ourselves from reincarnation to reincarnation, and hopefully everyone else is doing the same, that the world becomes progressively better because we as a group of humans are progressively better. Some might, and will, argue this point, but we think the world has gotten better over time and we expect it will continue to become better over time in the future. Mankind is inherently imperfect, and always will be, but we can become more perfect. This is mostly achieved through having our consciousnesses raised. Perhaps advances in technology have something to do with it also. We also believe that God is not all-powerful and that He cannot make the world perfect on His own. Perhaps He cannot even make it more perfect on His own. That is why God created mankind, to help Him make the world a better place - what we call tikkun olam - "perfecting the world". So we are partners in God's creation and it is incumbent on us to do our part. If we try do all of the above, we will presumably be inscribed for many good years in order to achieve what we were put here for. Its not a guarantee, for we can't understand why everything happens the way it does, but we think that doing what we were put here to do has more to do with what happens to us in this life than repentance. In a manner of speaking, reexamining how we are doing with our three tasks IS a form of repentance, and so one could say they are essentially the same thing, with each one informing the other. So when you see "repentance" in the prayer book, think of your three purposes.
From my blog at www.martinvesole.com
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