Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement, which begins at sundown on Friday, September 13, 2013) is a time of year to say “I’m sorry” to our friends and family. In Hebrew, Yom means “day” and Kippur comes from a root word that means “to cover” or “to hide.” In this way, Yom Kippur has come to mean the day when Jews atone for (make up for) their sins of the past year.
During the High Holy Days, Jews take time to evaluate their behavior over the past year. They look for times when they’ve wronged God or others. The Talmud (a code of Jewish law and legend) teaches: On the Day of Atonement we atone for sins against God, not for sins against other people, unless the injured party has been appeased (Mishna Yoma 8:9). In other words, Yom Kippur does not provide us with an automatic clean slate. Along the way we need to try to correct our mistakes and clear up any misunderstandings.
On Yom Kippur, and immediately before, the traditional greetings changes from Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year) to something more solemn which reflects the nature of the holiday. As many people fast on Yom Kippur to achieve a deep spirituality, they wish each other Tzom Kal, an easy fast. Another greeting is Gemar tov or Gemar chatimah tova. The Hebrew literally means “may things finish well” or “may you end with a good seal.” This can be a wonderful discussion point for families and children. How can you finish the holidays well? What do you want to change in the coming year?
Unlike most of our Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, has few home rituals (of course, as it is a Jewish holiday, there is a festive meal to end the fast). It is a holiday dedicated to personal reflection and communal worship. How can a five year old understand atonement? How do we share this solemn holy day with our young children?
One lesson that we can share with children is how to say we are sorry. Bert and Ernie show us how to apologize in this vintage video. It is sometimes very easy for a child to quickly say “sorry” and then go on with the offending action or activity, the sorry really did not have much of an impact or meaning at all. I feel that we have to both say that we are sorry, and also show we are sorry by changing our behavior or talking about how to do things differently the next time. For more details, here is an article from Parents magazine.
As I seem to make many, many mistakes each day, often in the presence of my children and family, I try to model this behavior and after I apologize, talk to them about how I would do things differently the next time. I am so lucky that my kids remind me before I make the same mistakes again and again.
Gemar Chatima Tova! May you end with a good seal!