And there’s a tiny light
A flicker within
Forgiveness is the needle that knows how to mend
-from “Under the Water” by Jewel
Yesterday marked the Day of Atonement in the Jewish calendar. On this solemn occasion, the Jewish people ask G-d to forgive them for their transgressions. What has always fascinated me about the Jewish tradition is that G-d’s forgiveness is virtually certain, on one condition-that worshippers first receive forgiveness from those who they harmed by their sins.
As I sat in synagogue the other night, as I do every year, I tried to catalog my sins. This time, however, I made three startling discoveries. For one, I finally realized that I have always listed specific actions as my sins, instead of their root cause. Looking back at prior lists, I can now see that the sins remain the same, but only their manifestations change from year to year. Second, I realized that the people I harm are always the ones I love. I never have to call up someone from the phone company to apologize for being rude, but year after year I find myself calling my family and friends with teary confessions. But most startling of all, I found that the person whose forgiveness I need the most is my own.
I suppose the moment I awakened to this emotional reality was when the rabbi quoted Proverbs 20:27, “The soul of man is the candle of G-d.” This powerful imagery kindled my imagination. I imagined myself as a candle in infinite darkness, struggling to be bright and orange. But the best I could do was a flicker. For brief moments I would be a giraffe of coruscating incandescence, other times it seemed like I was on the verge of whimpering into oblivion. But no, I burned with a little portion of the Eternal Flame that the Creator breathed into me. I felt its steadiness and wondered how my flame could be so erratic.
Yearning to achieve ever greater heights, I would climb higher and higher, but no amount of conquered darkness could satiate me. Then, just as suddenly as my fiery tendrils had shot into the dark, I retreated back, gasping for air. Down in my candle’s waxy bowl, I would try to hide and sulk in smothering shame. But the Breath continued, unabated, and I could not help but be nourished back to health. Eventually, I gathered the courage to fight the darkness once more.
I saw this Sisyphean cycle for what it was and wondered what it would be like to forgive myself-forgive my failures, forgive my imperfections, forgive my ignorance. I saw my flame steady itself. No longer burning my own fuel in anger and contempt, I shone with a calm luminescence. Peace, harmony, and tranquility poured out of me, bright and orange. Around me, I no longer saw an infinite darkness, but a twilit room filled with countless other flames, some bright and orange, some flickering. I shaped my flame into a sail and let the Breath guide me to the first candles I saw flickering nearby.
Editor’s Note: Upholding the Jewish tradition of not spelling out the word “God” out of reverence for the sacredness of the name of God, the author chose to use “G-d” instead.