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Monday, November 23, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Oct 10, 2009 6:17 AM PDT

Do to technical difficulties, I was never able to recover and post the original version of this essay.  I have rewritten it in honor of Yom Kippur 2011.

This essay is dedicated to Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill, a rabbinic scholar who is helping me to gain a better understanding of Judaism, Christianity and the relationships between them. The good rabbi is not responsible for any errors that may appear here and the opinions expressed are my own.

Yom Kippur is the highest of the Jewish holidays. It is the culmination of the Ten Days of awe beginning with Rosh Hashana. This is the period where one reflects on the sins that he or she has committed in the previous year. Yom Kippur is a day dedicated to atoning for these sins so that the penitent can seek forgiveness of G-d. In rabbinic tradition,those who do not repent and atone are stricken from the Book of Life and written into the Book of Death, marked for an early grave.

Messianic Jews and Christians believe that Jesus gave his life to atone for the sins of Mankind. This is in keeping with the Jewish tradition that atonement requires a life for a life. Rather than allow another to sacrifice its life in a gesture of atonement, Jesus paid the price in blood himself so that others might live. In the Christian tradition, many sects believe that one need only believe that they are thus saved through the blood of Christ to receive the blessings of eternal life.

There are both Christians and Jews who believe it is not enough to regret ones sins or to make token gestures to indicate a desire for atonement. These are individuals who recognize their duty to live as they profess to believe, just as do secular humanists and Muslims. Hindus and many Buddhists hold to a third way: There is no good or evil, only that which is. "It's all good" is not just a phrase but a central tenet of belief to those who recognize that good cannot exist without evil and both are a necessary part of an interdependent universe dependent on consistency of logic for its existence.

If there is a God, it created both good and evil for purposes that we are not given to understand. Only a Creator could understand the purpose of pain and suffering because only a transcendent being can know all that is to come and why. Those who trust in the existence of a loving God or Universe put their faith into the belief that such a God is guiding us somehow to a destiny that will justify all the suffering we have encountered on the way.

The question then becomes: Do we have to atone for our sins in order to receive the reward that all of the great prophets have promised to the faithful? The answer is for each of us to decide for ourselves, for this is the essence of free will, which I believe to be the reason Mankind was created. Each of us choose for ourselves how important it is to overcome our selfish natures and become the people who we say we want to be. Forgiveness is not for us to give ourselves but for us to earn from our fellow men and from God,if it exists.

The Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur is designed to remind the faithful Jew that G-d does indeed judge our actions while on Earth. The implication is that without genuine repentance and an attempt to  atone for the harm we have done to others, there can be no forgiveness. This requires of the faithful a fearless moral inventory and a willingness to regard every fellow human as having the same rights as any other.

My prayer then is that Jews and Christians will recognize the moral risks in blindly supporting an Israeli government that has been co-opted by religious fanatics with no sense of responsibility for what is done to the Palestinian people in their names. Whether by perceived compulsion or conscious choice, the sins of commission and omission of those who support this persecution cannot be wiped clean with the blood of any sacrificial lamb. Only by working to right this wrong can they earn the right to eternal life if it is their belief that it exists.

There are many Jews and Christians who have come to the realization that the persecution of Palestinians runs counter to the traditions of Judaism and Christianity just as it does in all the other great faith traditions. I pray that they will be able to persuade their fellow believers that only by standing for the rights of all do they have the right to call themselves believers. It is up to all of us to have the courage to speak the truth to those whom it may anger. This is the essence of prophecy: Speaking truth to power without regard to personal consequences. If good and evil exist then we must choose. Choosing not to decide is not an option, for that is a decision for which we will be held accountable if  God is our judge.

I firmly believe that Armageddon is not the story of how the world will end but a warning of how it could end if we do not live up to our moral responsibility to ensure liberty and justice for all. There will be no Messiah or Mahdi to save us from our own selfish acts that have led us to the brink of the destruction of human civilization. The great prophets have all taught that we are one race with the duty to care for each other not out of selfish desire for individual survival or the survival of one group, but out of universal, unconditional love for all Mankind.


Please join Peace Now in Israel or your home country today.

Jewish Voice for Peace is an amazing group and I highly recommend it as well.

The  was written in Pasadena, CA as the summer fires smoldered.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

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