Virtual Reality and the Day of Atonement

Reflections of a Religiously Challenged but Sentient Being on Forgiveness, the October 1973 (Yom Kippur) War, and other Sundry Subjects

If I have hurt any of you during the past year by my thoughts, speech, actions, or inactions, please forgive me. This is a very common request among Jews just before the Day of Atonement. We have been told since we were small children that God only forgives sins against Him. If we’ve sinned against our fellow men, we can only ask God’s forgiveness after asking and receiving forgiveness from the people against whom we’ve sinned.

As a religiously challenged but sentient being, I can understand why people would request forgiveness and why some gracious people would grant forgiveness. Everybody of moral or ethical sensibility would like to undo the wrong he’s done to someone else, to unsay the hurtful words, to unring the bell that tolls. For some people it’s the fear of eternal damnation for our sins. For others, it’s the look of hurt or fear on another’s   face, whether that person is a loved one or merely another human being like you or me. What I can’t understand is why people expect to be forgiven. The damage is done, the moving finger having writ moves on, time’s arrow flies in only one direction. Sometimes forgiveness is impossible, no matter how badly we need it. I’m reminded of Simon Wiesenthal’s book, “The Sunflower” about the possibilities and limits of forgiveness. A Nazi soldier on his death bed asks a Jew who survived the holocaust to forgive him for his sins, but the Jew cannot forgive the Nazi because the Jew hasn’t the right to forgive the particular sins the Nazi had committed. Only the dead victims of the holocaust have the right to forgive and they are unavailable.

Our expectation of forgiveness for our sins comes from our need to live in a kind of virtual reality, one in which forgiveness is possible; the same virtual reality in which there exists a God in our universe, who defies the laws of physics and logic, and who protects and rewards the good and punishes the bad; the same virtual reality in which God will protect the Jews (if not the men capable of bearing arms, at least the elders, the women, and the children) from everyone who would raise a hand against them, in which America and Europe will protect Israel from its enemies if we only lay down our arms and give peace (another and another) chance, in which Israel is invincible for ever and ever. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, Israeli Jews stopped driving, turned off their televisions and radios, and walked to their synagogues, secure in the knowledge that God would watch their 6, while they prayed to Him. We’d never be attacked on the holiest of holy days. It was unthinkable. When we are attacked, the radios and televisions broadcast secret codes known to every soldier and reservist, so that he will know whether his unit needs him. On this day the radios and televisions were silent. The army had to send trucks and jeeps around to every synagogue to pick up the soldiers and transport them to their pre-arranged pickup points. Note for the future: the perfect day for an attack is the day we all close our eyes and ears. We invent this virtual reality (and then forget we invented it since it happened so long ago) because the reality in which we have to live is so terrible, so cruel, so heartless, and so mindless that it’s untenable for a sentient being to live in it, unfiltered, undiluted, or un-deluded.

The only problem with our virtual reality is the cracks in the virtual cement, through which reality pushes. As for forgiveness, it is truly a miracle if you receive it, but unfortunately I cannot believe in miracles. Consider well what you do before you do it, without the expectation of forgiveness to fog your vision. If you’ve done evil (and who hasn’t?), then try to balance the scales with some future good. Just maybe you’ll arrive at the end of your days with more good in your balance than bad.

 גמר חתימה טובה

Mike Stone, Ra’anana Israel

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