Raffaele Camardella on Flickr

Many of us know that Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement, is a chance to ask God for forgiveness for the harm we have done throughout the year, a chance to restore and repair our relationship with the Divine.

Fewer of us realize, however, that the 10 days between Rosh Hoshannah and Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Atonement, are also a chance to repair and restore our relationships with the people we have hurt or harmed.

So, on Yom Kippur, we can express our regret and ask Divine forgiveness for our hurtful actions towards others, including:

  • foolish and inconsequential talk
  • disrespect
  • coercion
  • scoffing
  • speaking ill of others
  • passing judgment
  • scheming against others
  • hatred
  • embezzlement
  • false denial and lying

However, as Rabbi Louis Jacobs writes, quoting Maimonides:

On Yom Kippur… there is no forgiveness for offenses against one’s neighbor such as assault or injury or theft and so forth, until the wrong done is put right… [and forgiveness is sought from that person]

Echoing this, Tracey R. Rich of Judaism 101 says:

Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year… righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.

This process, known as teshuvah, is often translated as repentance. Though teshuvah is open to us all year round, during this special week of reconciliation with ourselves, our God and our community, teshuvah can play a particularly vital role in renewing our lives.

According to Rabbi Emanuel Feldman of Torah.org:

Teshuvah literally means to turn around, to return, to start all over again…  The process has to begin with us, with a sense of true regret, with contrition for past misdeeds, and with a serious resolution not to repeat them… The overarching theme of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is “change”: to change from what we were before and to become new individuals. The motif behind it all is accountability. We are responsible for our actions. We do not live in a vacuum. What we do or say has an impact and a resonance in the world…

In this way, Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur bookend 10 days of inner reflection, reconciliation, resolution, and self-responsibility: all integral parts of restorative practices as I currently hold them in my life.

One one hand, this particular way of looking at healing and forgiveness is easy to dismiss as the specific belief of one religion and one group of people. However, regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, it is hard to imagine that having a week set aside for repairing burned bridges would not contribute to your spiritual health and your relationship with yourself and your community.

So, while the week of November 11 is the International Week of Science and Peace, August 1-7 is World Breast Feeding Week, and the week of March 11 has been, since 1979, the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples Struggling against Racism and Racial Discrimination, isn’t it lovely to know that for those of us who want to, we can join an already existing International Week (and a half) of Restorative Practices that helps renew, repair, and realign our relationships and our lives.

About the Author

Elaine Shpungin Ph.D.

Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D., is the director of the University of Illinois Psychological Services Center.

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