The Jewish calendar resembles a jigsaw puzzle more than it does a collage. Holy days do not stand alone, but are linked to other dates in the calendar so that we are constantly being propelled to the next notable date while still retaining fumes from the previous one. Even this chock-filled time of year with Rosh HaShana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Simhat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) doesn’t spring up in isolation, but is connected to an earlier summer date of tragedy that is strongly linked to a lack of brotherly love among the Jewish people. Indeed, as we head to the Day of Atonement which falls next Wednesday, we are reminded that God does not forgive sins between man and man; those we need to take care of directly with the injured parties.
If we are tuned into the power of this time of year when all mankind is judged, our sensitivities are heightened. This gave even greater power than usual to the news story I saw this morning. You can read the details yourself, but here is a brief synopsis. Just over a year ago, in a terrible tragedy, off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her neighbor Botham Jean when, according to her, she mistakenly entered his apartment instead of her own and shot him, thinking he was an intruder who threatened her.
I did not follow the details of the trial, but at the end of it, after she was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison, the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean said, “If you are truly sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you,” and then asked for permission to hug his brother’s murderer. That act of grace and compassion took my breath away.
There are so many elements of the killing and what followed it that can and should be discussed in the larger picture of our judicial system, our police, racial tension and other matters. The judge’s actions after the trial, too, when she also gave Amber Guyger a hug along with a Bible, provide an opening for discussion. This exchange of ideas should not be the domain of internet trolls and angry, vulgar diatribes, but of actual meaningful conversations. As worthy as those conversations are, I am not going to discuss those matters here.
I simply want to say that in a society that sometimes seems to be full of incitement towards hatred from so many different avenues, Brandt Jean’s words and actions stand as a beacon of light. During this unique time of year, a period known as the Days of Awe, each of us who tries to maximize our opportunity is aware of not only needing to ask forgiveness from those we have harmed but also of being in the position of granting forgiveness to those who have harmed us. In doing so, we are reminded that God judges us as we judge others. If we are quick to assume error rather than ill-will on the part of others, God will lean towards leniency when assessing our own actions towards Him. If we show compassion to others; God will similarly show compassion to us.
There are hurts that go deep beneath the surface and losing a beloved brother ranks high on that list. Mr. Jean’s largeness of spirit, fueled by his Christian beliefs, challenges us all to become greater people able to relate to others soul to soul. He is probably unaware of how the timing of his beneficence coincides with this period in the Jewish calendar when God judges all mankind, but for me and others the power of his lesson is truly magnified at this time.
P.S. Writing and speaking in public, as I do, is scary. Not only are mistakes “out there” even when later corrected, but each reader comes with his or her own perspective. At this time, I do ask forgiveness if something I wrote or said over the course of this year caused pain to any of you.