Billy Planer on Forgiveness
Rosh HashanahCommunity

Billy Planer on Forgiveness

Billy Planer is the founder of Etgar 36, a Jewish program that engages teenagers on issues of the day through the lens of civil rights history.

Billy Planer is the founder and director of Etgar 36.

Forgiveness and t’shuvah (repentance) from our fellow human being, ourselves and God are what the high holiday season is all about. The Mishnah teaches us that t’shuvah is complete when we are in the same situation in which we previously erred and choose to act better.

Our high holiday season culminates with finishing the annual reading of the Torah and immediately starting over. Perhaps we reread the same five books and are confronted by the same story each year so we can have different outcomes based on the learning we have done over the past year. We deepen our understanding of what we have reread by bringing what we have learned before and adding it to where we are today. In essence, history is just prelude.

One lesson from the Yom Kippur haftorah is that we are all connected. Our fast, our intention, MUST transcend the 24 hours and the walls of the sanctuary. The feeling of connectedness to our community, to God, to wanting to be and do better must translate to how we treat each other in the parking lot when we are driving out, and to people we encounter who do not look, pray, vote, think, love, or talk like us.

As we reread the section below from the Yom Kippur haftorah, may some modern additions in bold help us realize how it connects to us in 5780.

“Is such the fast I desire,

A day for men to starve their bodies?

Is it bowing the head like a bulrush

And lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Do you call that a fast,

A day when the LORD is favorable?

No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness (by standing up to people who try to divide us through fear and ignorance).

And untie the cords of the yoke (including access to a basic life that can be obtained when earning minimum wage).

To let the oppressed (and human sex-trafficked) go free and

To break off every yoke (including having every citizen’s voice heard at the ballot box).

It is to share your bread with the hungry (by making sure everyone has access to affordable fresh and healthy food).

And to take the wretched poor into your home (including those coming from away looking for a better life in our country).

When you see the naked, to clothe him (and make sure he can have health care).

And not to ignore your own kin (including the people living in tents under our overpasses).

Then, when you call, the LORD will answer;

When you cry, He will say: Here I am.”

We must feel connected to these contemporary issues because, just as the prophets ask, “Is this fast I desire?” we need to ask, “Is this the world we desire?”

May we leave this high holiday season partners in the revolution of connectedness so when we soon read Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” our answer will be “Yes”!

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