This is a drasha I shared with the Shira community in the moments before Neila, 5774. It imagines what prayer would be like if it was a dialogue, rather than a monologue. The following letter imagines how I would like God to respond to our prayers.
Imagining God’s Letter to the Jewish People
My Dear Children of Israel,
Over the past 24 hours, you have praised me, cried out to me, begged for forgiveness and sought atonement from me and your neighbours. What an honour to share this day with you. To be the address for your teshuva, for your desire to be a better a person.
Intoning and enumerating your sins, you have beaten your right fist into our left breast no fewer than 860 times. Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu…
But I say to you now, in the last hour of this shabbat shabtot, the holiest of holy days, enough.
No more guilt. For the last hour, abstain from guilt. True atonement has nothing to do with guilt, and everything to do with responsibility.
Please stop feeling guilty
For not being the parent you wanted to be,
For procrastinating too much before you achieved the things to you wanted to do
For criticising your friends and family without suggesting alternatives on how they could do better
For criticising your politicians with too many suggestions on how they could do better
And perhaps, for some of you, not taking the time to do teshuva seriously.
Instead of feeling guilty, please take this last hour on this most holy of days, to focus on responsibilities. Let the beautiful singing that pervades this room, be the backing track to your meditation and reflection on the responsibilities you’d like to take upon yourself in the coming year.
Will you take responsibility for being more generous in the way you give tzedakah?
Will you have more time for your family?
Will you speak less lashon hara?
Will you think more carefully about all of my 613 mitzvot before you accept or reject them?
Will you engage more honestly in your work?
Will you give more freely of your time to those who need it most?
These questions are for you to answer.
My Dear Children of Israel,
In the past year, far too many of my creations having been doing things in my name, which I am not happy about. In my name, people have advanced the cause of racism, intolerance, sexism, homophobia, war and xenophobia. Those who advance these causes in my name, forget that I have created all of you in my image. With equal rights, and equal dignity. Shaming your fellow human in my name, shames me. Loving your fellow creation, honours me.
The siddur you are all holding in your hands, please use it wisely in the next hour. From what I have heard so far, this holy book is filled with adjectives about me. How great, wonderful, mighty and powerful I am. So many times, I have heard you describe my 13 attributes of mercy
That I am gracious, compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon.
These words about my nature are true. I am forgiving and want you to succeed in doing teshuva.
However, I also wanted to let you know something else which isn’t included in the siddur. I know that your teshuva will be incomplete.
I know that many of the promises you will make today, will be broken. After all, why else would so many of you come to shule last night to annul your vows during Kol Nidre?
I created you in an imperfect way, with free choice, to choose good and to choose evil. To choose to kill and to choose to heal. To weep and to laugh, To mourn and to dance.
To acquire and to lose, to be silent and speak.
I gave you the ability to gas people in Syria, to be blind to the suffering of the asylum seekers and strangers in your midst, to ignore the hungry and the homeless, and to use violence on far too many occasions when words would have sufficed. I gave you the ability to commit unimaginable crimes and also to stop them. I have given you all the ability, on each and every day, to be a perpetrator, victim, bystander and upstander.
Every day, I look at the world and I see what’s going on. I don’t need google to find out. Because I am the only one who knows more than google.
I am acutely aware of your cognitive dissonance. Of the many occasions when your actions don’t match your ideas and beliefs. On this day, I forgive you for that too. As long as you can promise me that after today, we have an agreement, that you want to be better.
Better parents, better children, better partners, better citizens and better humans.
Whatever happens in the coming year, irrespective of whether you create more obstacles or making the choices necessary to overcome them, please remember, that I will always love you.
We are created in the same image. Sometimes broken, sometimes while, but always deserving of love.
I understand that many of you in this shule are fans of the Canadian prophet I sent you many years ago. One Mr Leonard Cohen. He was one of my better creations, so I can understand why you like him.
There is a song of his which I have heard from the floor of this room, which no other congregation has shared. If it be your will. If I could sing one line back to you, it would sound like this.
Now it is my will, that I speak no more
My voice will now be still, as it was before
From this broken Hill, all my praises you did ring
Now it is my will, for you to sing.
Gmar Chatima Tova