Yours, Mine and Our Sins

But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

We are in the Jewish High Holy Day period that began with Rosh HaShana and reaches its climax next Wednesday on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time for intense introspection on one’s life, achievements, failures and goals. Simultaneously, it is a time for communal reflection and involvement. When we enumerate our sins on Yom Kippur, each individual has his or her own list, yet the format we recite is in plural language. Sentence after sentence begins with the words “We have sinned…” rather than, “I have sinned.”

Isn’t this strange? Even orphans say, “We are guilty of not appreciating parents.” Even the most upright among us say, “We have stolen.”

This interaction between our unique lives and the larger community is one of the universal messages of Yom Kippur. It is a time to strip away the illusion that we are independent and self-directed and to recognize how much of the wrong way that we think and act is a function of following the crowd. It is a time to recognize our own responsibility not only for ourselves but also for others.  As we take an annual moral inventory, we need to assess with clarity the inescapable intertwining of our lives with the lives of the many different groups of people with whom we share life on earth.

After starkly facing our failings during this period, we emerge from the holy days with optimism and conviction. It is wrong to think of peer pressure only as negative. When we smile despite our pain, we also influence others. When we express gratitude and are gracious to others, the effects of that ripple outward as well. If we are courageous and cling to standards, immune to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, we make it easier for others to do so as well.

This is a good time of year to set the odometer back to zero and reject becoming ensnared in the failings of society, no matter how widespread they are. It is a particularly conducive time to commit to being leaders in exemplifying moral greatness.

Yom Kippur teaches us to work from the inside out, in contrast to tyrants who impose their will on others while indulging themselves. When we change ourselves, we change our families. When we change our families, we change our communities. When we change our communities, we change our country. When we change our country, we change the world.

13 thoughts on “Yours, Mine and Our Sins”

  1. Dear Rabbi Lapin.
    I highly appreciate your articles. My girlfriend suggested you to me.
    And I’m very happy to read you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Ah Ethan,
      You are clearly blessed to have a wise and discerning girlfriend.

  2. Dear Rabbi Lapin,
    I was struck by the part of your post which read, ” Sentence after sentence begins with the words “We have sinned…” rather than, “I have sinned.” This turned a light bulb on for me about Daniel’s prayer in Chapter 9, 1-19. I have always been a bit taken aback by Daniel words, “we have been wicked, we have rebelled, we have turned away…we have not listened…we have not obeyed, etc.” Yet Daniel’s life does not reflect rebelling, turning away, or any of the words he is using while praying using the pronoun we. I now understand why he prayed this way. Thank you for opening my eyes not only to Daniel’s prayer, but also my responsibility to those around me.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Sandra–
      what a brilliant observation. Now you’ve made me go and revisit the text of Daniel! Thank you.
      May God bless you with the opportunity of ongoing and uplifting Bible study.

  3. Kirsten Van Ooyen

    Dear Rabbi Lapin and Susan,
    Thank you for this inspiring and encouraging ‘Thought Tool’. You and your lovely wife are a ray of bright light in a time of chaos. We are SO grateful for you both.
    May you be blessed.

  4. Kenneth Martindale

    Dear Rabbi,
    Thank you for your regular advice and wisdom. We all need this in the midst of worldy distractions. Today’s message reminds me very much of our Canadian psychologist and philosopher Jordan Peterson who has produced many Youtube talks and a book called The Twelve Rules For Life. Moses received just ten which seem to have served as a pretty good foundation for a few years.
    I appreciate the communications I receive each week from you and your wife because they bring the daily confusion of ideas and activities into perspective and help to concentrate attention on the essentials rather than the trivial.
    Please continue this valuable service to your congregation.
    Yours sincerely,
    Kenneth Martindale. Edmonton,Alberta, Canada.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      You’re most welcome, Caroline,
      and we certainly appreciate you taking the trouble to tell us.

  5. We sin because it is our nature. Because we do not know better. Knowing better means knowing what the Lord wants us to do. In the absence of training, how can we do what is right? To go wrong is the most natural thing.
    Jesus asked us to be good. But apart from that, he asked us to do good.
    It is the unawareness of this aspect that causes us to deviate.
    Unless we know that we have to be good to do good, we will always think that we are good, that being our nature, to think that way, and, continue on our erroneous path, out of unawareness, of our obligation to do good.
    The sin is just an act, which otherwise, would be a good deed if the act had a direction at the moment of its action.
    And that direction being, not only that we must not sin, but also that we must do good.
    What can we do without direction,…?
    People who are positive are not in any way different than the people who so called do ‘sins’
    The difference between them is ‘they have direction,and they follow that direction.
    The direction being, the obligation that we must not do what is wrong, and the co-parallel duty to do what is right.
    This one direction guides and directs the nature to refrain from falling into error, and moreover, to consciously use the energy, which in the absence of direction, would cause us to do what is wrong, let alone do what is right.
    Only a trained mind can avoid sin, and sublimated that energy for constructive use, meaning, to direct our nature from its natural flow, which is error, towards an enlightened way, which is, directing the nature, at the moment of action from going wrong to going or doing as a conscious act of the will, to doing what is right.
    The right act, and the wrong act, are not two different acts, ;it is one act, which becomes wrong when the action has no direction, and is right, when at the moment of action, the act is directed by a conscious act of the will to go away from what is wrong towards to do what is right.
    I think, it is the result of a choice that we make.
    It is one action, but becomes right or wrong, by the direction in which, either the presence or absence of direction, at the time of its committing, causes it to be classified as ‘either right or wrong’.
    The Bible says, as God saying, My people die for lack of knowledge.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Orville-
      Thank you for writing. I fear that I must reluctantly disagree with much of what you so carefully laid out. For instance in your first line, you aver that we sin because we do not know better. This is most assuredly not true for most of us. Most of us know perfectly well what we should and should not do but we sin anyway because of inadequate will to counter the desire for evil.
      Still, it was kind of you to write so thoughtfully and we appreciate it.

  6. Dear Rabbi Lapin,
    I strive to be a better person every day and feel I fall short often. I so want to have a cheerful, optimistic attitude and live in God’s truth. I have endured a terrible marriage for many years now. The fault lies with both of us. It really bothers me when people don’t take responsibility for themselves and blame someone or something for their problems. What’s worse is when you know there is a problem and you do nothing about it. You are right that our actions and attitudes either help others or hurt them. It’s strange to me that some people cannot see that improving one’s self can carry so many benefits for self and others. When you help others it often benefits you more than them. I think that many people do not become the people that “The Boss” created them to be is because they are lazy. It’s easier to go along rather than swim against. AA teaches that our carnal desires get in the way of being better and more useful people. It takes practice to be fueled by mind rather than emotions and the physical. I have gained much knowledge in this area from you and others which I am very grateful for. It’s a struggle daily to put it into practice, but no one can say I’m not trying. I take the life our Father in heaven gave me very seriously, it’s the only one I have. My life is a bit of a mess right now, bad marriage, some health issues related to me not handling stress well and usual life stuff we all deal with. I am hopeful that it will all turn around. G-D, myself and wonderful folks like you and Susan can make a better world. Thanks for listening.
    Terry Sterling

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing Terry–
      It is rare to encounter such searing honesty and such penetrating self-awareness. May they stand you in good stead as you progress onwards and upwards to brighter times.

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