Yom Kippur, Forgiveness, and Race

Today’s guest post comes from Sarah Barasch-Hagans who is a queer Jewish woman from St. Louis and a third year rabbi-in-training at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Sarah is also the founder of the Fargesn Media Project and one of the founders of the acclaimed Black Lives Matter Haggadah. Her post shares her perspective on Yom Kippur. It also sheds light on the relationships between atonement and forgiveness as well as looking at how race affects those concepts. You can find more of Sarah’s writings on her blog.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish “Day of Atonement” of fasting and soul searching that seems to come every autumn exactly when we need it. This past week, after a year in which I engaged intensely in challenging accepted ideologies around race and class and power that Ferguson had highlighted in my hometown of St. Louis, Yom Kippur again came right on time. This year, I finally realized how truly countercultural in America is the Jewish approach is to apologizing and forgiving.

American society tends to make apologizing optional for the powerful yet demands forgiveness from the powerless. We have never offered reparations for slavery yet we tout as exemplary the Black families in South Carolina who have forgiven Dylann Roof for mass murdering their relatives while they prayed in church–even though he has expressed no remorse for his evil actions. On the heels of this news, set amidst this year of the rebirth of the Black Civil Rights Movement, it has felt especially important to me clarify the theology of forgiveness in Judaism.

In Judaism, we are not required to forgive those that wrong us. Rather, responsibility rests with the one who has done wrong and is required to atone. Even if we are not forgiven the first time we apologize, we must still attempt to fulfill the commandment by offering atonement three times with sincerity. Especially in cases where we may have sinned repeatedly, demonstrating sincerity arguably requires that we perform actions to show we are on a path to truly changing the behavior we are apologizing for. Only then, only after we have sincerely attempted atonement with the person three times, are we are said to have atoned properly before God.

This theology has serious implications for dialogues on race in our country. I believe that Jewish theology is absolutely clear that the current role of White Americans–Jewish and non-Jewish–is to atone.

Judaism would not demand that individual Black Americans forgive White People or the institutions that uphold racism. If individual Black Americans find peace in forgiveness, that is their choice, but but that is not required. Jewish tradition does have much to say about short term restorative justice and and long term reconciliation and community building, but is a conversation for another day.

We must delay those conversations because they are too comforting. This is our time to avoid the impulse to deflect blame or to try to plan for the future. This moment, this exact season in the Jewish calendar, is when we atone without knowing whether we will ever reach a place of comfort.

This time is for difficult spiritual exercises by those of us who are implicated in sinful cycles. Each of us of all races and genders and class backgrounds and sexualities and ability levels must look honestly at ourselves and our place in oppression, interpersonal and communal, and seek teshuvah–usually translated as atonement but literally meaning “turning.” This is our time of turning towards a path of love and justice. This is our time to exercise faith in turning to a path we may not even be able to imagine. Because until we are absolutely honest about the path we are on, we will never be able to see, much less travel, along the path we seek.

Forgiving The World

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Blue ruffles; light blue just like the sea, dancing up and down so smoothly and so playfully just like the waves. I could still hear her voice; a girl in a ruffled blue skirt I met on a vaporetto in Venice on my way home. She was singing at the top of her lungs, laughing, giggling; covering the noise of the engine, all to blue girl italyherself. I kept on watching her, envying her a bit and I wondered from where all this could  possibly come from; all this unrestrained joy and happiness, this peacefulness, not worrying about a thing, and tuning out the world’s noise and living in your own song.

As I watched her carefree dancing, I found myself thinking about forgiveness. She gave me a reason today to start forgiving. To start forgiving the world I’ve been angry at for a long time now. The restlessness, the closed doors, the circle that gets tighter every day, how I got to be so lost and confused, all the thinking and worrying, all this must stop, must be forgiven and forgotten, because only forgiveness can make us lighter, freer, happier, like blue ruffles!

So it is okay; to have lost people, to have been hurt and disappointed. It is okay not to know who we are or what we want. It is okay to change our minds, to change course, to go back to where we started or to stop all together, take a break and think it all over again, because sometimes all that we need is simply to flow with life’s streams, without worrying where we will end up.

Blue ruffles taught me today that I should start forgiving: forgiving myself for giving up, for not trying harder, for losing hope, but more importantly I should start forgiving the world as it is—regardless of every hardship—finding on my way beautiful things to explore and beautiful people to know. In order to flow, to sing and dance around like blue ruffles, I must forgive.

I followed her after we got dropped off and she was still singing and dancing around while holding her granny’s hand (who was all the time attempting to control her to no avail thankfully) and I could not resist snapping a shot of her as I wanted to keep this memory for when I need a reason to hope, to forgive and to start afresh.

A Prayer For Forgiveness

ForgivenessAs we explore forgiveness, we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets offer this prayer for all of us who are searching for forgiveness. This prayer is just a template everyone is welcome to modify it, customize it, and re-create to better fit their own journey and beliefs. If you would like to share you re-creations, we welcome you to do so in the comment section, or to submit your own prayer.   

Dear Spirit of Unconditional Love,

Let me feel forgiveness wash over me,
and let that feeling renew me.

Help me know the blessing that comes from letting go,
from forgiving those I am able to forgive.

Bless those that I cannot forgive,
and help them know the unconditional love that surrounds us all.

Let me feel supported by unconditional love,
and let that love allow me to forgive others and myself as much as possible.

Help me embody forgiveness in its best form,
and help me see forgiveness as part, but not all of your divine love.


Please feel free to use this and any of our content in services, prayer groups etc., just remember to link it back to us! 

Forgive Me My Wrong Impressions

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

You fear heaven, the source of spiritual peace; you fear nature, the haven of rest and tranquility; you fear the God of goodness and accuse him of anger, while he is full of love and mercy.–Khalil Gibran

“You fear heaven”, says Gibran, and I am taken back to the childhood bewilderment of heaven as a place of limited space for well behaved little boys and girls. If God is so big, why isn’t heaven bigger? If God loves us, why is there a time limit on his forgiveness? If God created the trees and mountains and forests, why would he choose a city of gold to live in for eternity?

“You fear nature,” says Gibran, and I look around my apartment where the windows are never open because the air is polluted and murky. I remember days of wandering free and hugging trees and now I can’t remember the last time I threw my arms around a tree trunk feeling it’s bark and life and comfort.

“You fear the God of goodness,” Gibran says, and I feel the walls come up around my heart when I try to pray. Maybe he is angry with me. Maybe he is disappointed. Maybe it will be better to slip through my life quietly and not bother him with requests when I haven’t held up my end of the bargain.

“He is full of love and mercy,” Gibran says.

He is full of love and mercy.

He is full of love and mercy.

He is full of love and mercy.

I let this mantra enter my heart.

And I know God, the fabric of the universe, this connecting force of creation, rebirth, and new beginnings, this intangible palm holding all pasts, presents, and futures of every living thing, is not to be feared, nor to be bargained with. All my questions, my insecurities, my doubts, come from human fallibility and not from an all-encompassing fountain of love and mercy.

Forgive me my wrong impressions, and help me to see the bigger picture. Help me to embrace heaven on earth, the beauty and healing power of nature, and the fact that your love and mercy is bigger than my fears. Amen.

Forgiveness In The Bible, Forgiveness In Real Life

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief
Forgiveness, Bible, Love

If your loved one sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.
Luke 17:3-4

I am not unfamiliar with the Bible, and I know full well that it contains quote a few messages like the one above— messages about forgiveness. But, well, in real life, I don’t find these teachings so easy to follow, especially when it comes to people I love.

The above passage from Luke is one that has always been hard for me. A stranger knocks into me on the street, I can forgive them. I find it is easy because there isn’t any baggage there. But someone I love, someone I trust, if they hurt me…well I find that finding forgiveness and reconciliation is a bit harder than the verse from Luke makes it appear.

Recently, I found myself in a situation where someone near and dear to my heart hurt me in a way they have done before. My loved one was of course sorry, and asked for forgiveness. Part of me knows that it is better for both of us if I forgive them, that it is indeed the “proper Christian thing to do”. But because it isn’t the first time, because they aren’t a stanger on the street, I was finding forgiveness a little hard… maybe really hard.

I understand that forgiveness is good, but when I read passages from the Bible, especially the one above from Luke, part of me thinks to myself “Come on! Seven times in one day! And I still have to forgive them!”.

But that is what I am called to do if I want to follow Jesus, it may be what we are all called to do if we want to find our own peace. Forgiveness has let me move on from hurt, it has helped me rebuild trust with people I love.

There is another verse from Luke that I find helps me when I am struggling with forgiveness of those I love. In Luke 6:37, we are told that if we forgive, then we will be forgiven. When j am really struggling with  this forgiveness business, I like to read both of the versions of that passage below.

Jesús también les dijo:

“No se conviertan en jueces de los demás, y Dios no los juzgará a ustedes. No sean duros con los demás, y Dios no será duro a ustedes. Perdonen a los demás y Dios los perdonará a ustedes.


Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

The first version focuses on how God will forgive us, will not condemn us, will mot judge us and so we are called to do the same. For me this connection with God is important for learning how to forgive those I love. I know i will need the help of the divine if I am going to truly reconcile and forgive those who have made mistakes seven times a day. the connection with God’s forgiveness also reminds me that i make far more than seven mistakes a day, and some i even forget to seek forgiveness for, and yet the divine spirit of love forgives them all.

The second passage doesnt mention God’s forgiveness, although it is implied. For me though, side by side with the other version of the same passage, the second version reminds me that the people i love are forgiving me just as often, if not more than I am forgiving them. We are all in this forgiveness business together.

Ultimately, forgiveness in the Bible can seem a lot easier than it does in real life, with real loved ones and years of history included. Yet the Bible, for me is also a resource when this forgiveness stuff gets really hard. It often helps me find new ways to look at forgiveness in real life. For me, the messages in the Bible also remind me to forgive myself when I am having trouble forgiving other, and that in the end, even if I can’t forgive someone seven times in one day, we are all still unconditionally forgiven, and loved by the divine.

Seeking Submissions: Forgiveness

Forgiveness, spiritual
This month at Searching Sophia’s Pockets, we are focusing on the theme of FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness can be a tough topic, but a vital one for many spiritual journeys. We invite you to look deeply and tell us how forgiveness has shaped your relationship with your spirituality, with others, and with the world at large. If you are lacking inspiration for your submission, here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. Who are you struggling to forgive right now? How has this affected your relationship with the divine and/or your spirituality?
  2. How did you learn to forgive?
  3. How do you define true forgiveness?
  4. Who forgives you? How?
  5. How do you ask for forgiveness?

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

The Searching Sophia’s Pockets Team