The Days of Repentance beginning with Rosh HaShanah and concluding with Yom Kippur are devoted to contemplation of our sins – moments when we have “missed the mark” – and repentance for our bad actions. Repentance involves recognizing our failures, seeking forgiveness and committing to changing our ways in the future. We are taught that we should pray for forgiveness for sins against God, but for sins against other people we must seek forgiveness and make restitution directly to the person harmed.
Some acts are sins against society; crimes for which society imposes penalties and exacts punishment. As a society, we must determine how to balance the attributes of justice and mercy, offering both punishment and forgiveness, acknowledging the need to protect a vulnerable population from criminals as well as the hope that rehabilitation and a return to society may be possible. As we seek forgiveness for our own failures, we also must consider granting forgiveness to those who sin against us, either as individuals or as members of the greater society.
During this season when the Gates of Repentance are open, as we reflect about the ideas of sin and repentance, punishment and forgiveness, justice and mercy, we also might examine our criminal justice system and ask difficult questions: Is the system fair, treating all who stand before the courts of justice equally? How do we treat the millions of individuals incarcerated within our penal system? How can we lay a foundation for those who have paid their debt to society to re-enter the community successfully? These and other questions are appropriate considerations during this season in which we seek forgiveness, mercy and compassion for our own misdeeds.
Activities for Congregations
Activities for Individuals