The Day of Atonement is a time for reflection. On this day, it is customary for Jews to reflect not only on their personal sins, primarily against each other, but for the entire Jewish nation to reflect on what it did not do, or should have done better as a nation toward the rest of the world. Most people who write posts about this day focus on the personal; I would like to focus on the forgiveness we should ask as a nation.
The Day of Atonement is a great opportunity to remind ourselves that we are unlike any other nation. We are the only nation that has the mission to be an example of unity, to cultivate love of others, solidarity, and mutual responsibility, and in this way become an example for the world.
To see that we do not forget our obligation to the world, the closing prayer on the Day of Atonement includes the entire Book of Jonah, who was a Jewish prophet who tried to avoid his obligation to save the gentile city of Nineveh. The story reminds us that we cannot escape our calling, that we will be found even deep inside a merchant ship whose sailors do not know our identity.
The very reason we should foster unity is to be an example, and not for our own sake. Accordingly, the prayers on the Day of Atonement are structured so that after we have asked forgiveness for our mistreatment of each other and reinforced our unity, the final part of the closing prayer reminds us of the purpose of all our efforts: to be a light to the nations, a nation that displays exemplary unity.
The Creator that our sages talk about is not a celestial entity of some sort; it is a force of bestowal, a desire to give. The Israeli people are those who strive to acquire this quality, the desire to give. This is why the people of Israel cherish charity, caring for others, solidarity, and all those other customs and traits that bind people’s hearts together.
Therefore, being “a light to the nations” means showing the nations of the world how they, too, can unite among themselves and with each other. However, the only way for Israel to help the world unite is by example. Israel cannot teach the nations; they do not need our instruction. All they need is to see our unity, and they will know what to do.
Because we are divided, we set the opposite example of what we must give to the world. This is why the nations hate us and blame us for their conflicts. Without our example, they, too, will not be able to unite, and they will blame us for their conflicts. If we unite, we will see how all the nations welcome us and gladly follow our example.
May this Day of Atonement be the last one in which we are divided and set a bad example to the world. May we be able to reflect on our actions on the next Day of Atonement and say, “We have united; we have become a light to the nations.”
Jewish worshippers take part in Slichot, a prayer in which Jews offer repentance and ask God to forgive their sins, ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City in Jerusalem’s Old City, October 3, 2022. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
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