"'I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near,' says the LORD. 'And I will heal them.'” — Isaiah 57:18‑19
Jews around the world are observing the most holy time on the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, this season is marked by intense reflection and repentance. This is one of 18 devotions focused on this holy season, exploring its meaning and the many lessons we can learn from this biblically mandated observance. To learn more, download our free study on Jonah, which is traditionally read during Yom Kippur.
A central part of the Yom Kippur service is the recitation of confessions. We read from a formal text which covers just about any sin that a person might do and then plead for forgiveness. While all the sins mentioned in the text are important and relevant, there is one that always stands out to me: “ . . . and for the sin which we have committed before You by causeless hatred.”
Of all the things that we might do wrong, hating another person without a reason occupies a special place of infamy in the Jewish tradition. According to the Jewish sages, it was that particular sin that sealed our fate almost 2,000 years ago when God destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and exiled what remained of His people from Israel.
At the time, the Jewish people were committing many sins. However, the hatred between the people was what caused God to decide that He could no longer dwell among them. What’s more, the sages teach that if we could only rectify that sin, the Holy Temple would be rebuilt once more, right now. For every generation who does not see the Temple rebuilt, it’s as if they have destroyed it all over again. Had we learned to love one another unconditionally, instead of continuing to judge, resent, and hate each other for no reason, the Temple would stand once more.
This is a challenge that we all have been trying to overcome for millennia. It’s no wonder; we are so prone to being judgmental, and gossip has become second nature. Pride has replaced forgiveness, and resentment has uprooted mercy. It’s not easy to turn our hate into love, especially when we ourselves have been hurt by others.
As part of the Yom Kippur service we read a passage from the book of Isaiah. God said: “I have seen their ways, but I will heal them . . . Peace, peace, to those far and near.” The sages explain that God was giving the people advice: It’s easier to make peace with those far from us first, and then turn to those closer to us.
Some of us carry around decades of resentment toward the people closest to us, but can we overlook a slight by a stranger? God is telling us to start by making peace with those far from us – with the person who cut you off on your morning drive, the rude cashier, the irritable coworker. We can start by making peace with those who are distant from us and next considering those closest to us. With God’s help and healing, we then will see peace in the world.