Monday, October 10, 2005

Are You Mochel Me?

This is something which I have never really liked. It's the whole "are you mochel me?" marathon that those fearful of the sensation of burning flesh try to rush in right before Judgement Day. You know they're not sincere because _they_ don't actually think they've done anything wrong and even if they do suspect that they've done something wrong, you know they're only asking you because they fear divine retribution, not because they're actually sorry.

What then does this whole race accomplish? It's of the same vein as the mumbling Ma'ariv and the fast without a cause. The mentality is "I did the duty, now I'm in the clear." If people really believe that God cares so much about their individual conduct, do they think He's fooled by such transparent reasonings? Now I'm feeling a little bit like Isaiah here, but ritual without content is pointless and is at worst offensive.

Asking people for forgiveness could be done the right way with actual intent and with actual care about how one's conduct affects another. Though I do prefer to let bygones be bygones than to resurface old scars between people. But still, it isn't even wrong that such thoughts of personal accounting could be brought about by a certain time of year. And in that sense, Yom Kippur can be a meaningful holiday dealing with individual introspection and measuring oneself up with how one has been and how one wants to be. We can improve ourselves and we can become better people.

Begging the bearer of a divine Sword of Damocles for mercy is how most of Orthodoxy sees Yom Kippur for your fate is sealed on that day, but again, this is not about improving yourself for morality's sake, but for placating an angry overlord to whom prayer is a meager substitute for the full bodied aroma of barbecued animals. I think this is a weak and wrong-headed method for improving behavior. Most people will quickly revert to their previously comfortable levels of moral observance. One really must be honest with oneself and think deeply about what they may have done and how to improve themselves. You can't ask for mercy from yourself, but you can promise yourself to do better.

11 comments:

alex said...

Your message of Isaiah is true and well-appreciated. (Although it sounds a whole lot different coming from you than it does coming from my rabbi.)

"You know they're not sincere ... you know they're only asking you because they fear divine retribution, not because they're actually sorry."

Same issue as the afterlife issue from several posts ago. You seem stuck on the notion that these people have only one level of motivation to be good. Some indeed suffer from the problem you describe. (But you fail to use the word "some.") Can you believe that some religious people do the right thing for the same reason *you* do the right thing -- and they probably learned that "thing" in Hebrew school, like you. Also, can you believe that some (though fewer) religious people do the right thing not for the fear of divine retribution, but for their love of God?

Oh, before I forget. I hope you forgive me for the sometimes brusque way I've posted. Feel free to surmise my motivations for seeking forgiveness.

alex said...

Whoops, spoke too fast. Your August archives show that you ARE aware of differing levels of motivations to be moral.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"Can you believe that some religious people do the right thing for the same reason *you* do the right thing.."

No, actually I know many of them do. But they do it _despite_ what religion tells them is the reason. Clearly it's the ones I'm talking about who are the ones I'm talking about.

"Oh, before I forget. I hope you forgive me for the sometimes brusque way I've posted. Feel free to surmise my motivations for seeking forgiveness."

Of course, you are forgiven my child. Now do 15 Hail Marys. I suspect that you're only seeking it now in an effort to prove me wrong. ;-)

Larry Lennhoff said...

Rather than ask the world (individually) to forgive me one at a time, I do a much more limited number of face to face discussions. Usually I talk to one co-worker or boss, a couple of friends, and my wife. These are serious discussions - to start off with I talk about the ways I think I have mistreated them, which is very different from asking them if there is anything I have done wrong.

This year I have to do this with my Mom, and I'm dreading it. But that is the point, IMO - if I ask forgiveness from someone who I don't think I hurt, neither of us are likely to gain from it.

OTOH, my friend Chaiya has this approach, which seems to work for her.

Kol Tuv

Larry

Alex said...

"But they do it _despite_ what religion tells them is the reason. "

ReasonS.
Hopefully, a greater percentage of religious Jews follow the advice of Antigonus of Socho than you'd give credit for.

Orthoprax said...

Larry,

You certainly seem to have a more sophisticated way of going about and I respect that. Kudos.

Alex,

You mean those who do right because of the fear of heaven? I'm sure there are some who do that too.

Alex said...

And don't forget those who apologize this time of year simply because the holiday, and the days leading up to the holiday, remind them to wake up from their laziness, and to make amends with people. Even the agnostics utilize the day for that purpose.

It is impossible to tell just how many Orthodox Jews you wish to paint with your paintbrush. You have no interest in making the number appear small.

Oh, concerning Antigonus, you were pretty sneaky just quoting the last part of his saying.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"And don't forget those who apologize this time of year simply because the holiday, and the days leading up to the holiday, remind them to wake up from their laziness, and to make amends with people..."

Huh? People who do it don't need to be reminded..

"It is impossible to tell just how many Orthodox Jews you wish to paint with your paintbrush. You have no interest in making the number appear small."

I said "most" and I stick by that amount. Of course I'm generalizing as I am sure there are many exceptions. But if you were to pick a regular Orthodox Jew off the street, honestly, what would you think his view would be?

"Oh, concerning Antigonus, you were pretty sneaky just quoting the last part of his saying."

I was just yanking your tail with that one. ;-) But, seriously, ask your average Orthodox Jew and see if he has any idea about what you're talking about. And, I further suggest that Antigonus' statement was made intentionally ambiguous.

JC Masterpiece said...

So would you prefer them to repent at the last minute only half-heartedly, or not at all?

Orthoprax said...

JC,

It's not about what I prefer, but a half-hearted repentance is actually the same as no repentance. Sincerity is key.

elf said...

This year, instead of asking for forgiveness, I called the people I care about and told them that I care. Implicitly, I was saying, "I'm sorry that I don't call more often."

I agree with you that sometimes it is best to let byegones be byegones, but there are also times when it's best to 'fess up and apologize. We have to be honest with ourselves: am I avoiding the topic out of sensitivity to the other person and concern for our relationship, or am I avoiding it because it's painful for me?