On Friday afternoon, I enjoyed a conference call with some friends and clients.

At the beginning of the call, as we waited for a couple latecomers, one friend wished me a good new year. Rosh Hashanah would be starting at sunset.

He mentioned one of the Jewish traditions that he knows, that of asking forgiveness during these High Holy Days. He's not Jewish, but he has a copy of Joseph Telushkin's Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History, the text he refers to when Jews pop up.

(It's a great book and the same one I use when Jews pop up. Of course, in my case, they pop up more often. Especially all over the house and always in the mirror.)

Anyway, the conference call would start at any moment and that's no time to impersonate a rabbi. So, I agreed with everything he said and we moved on.

But I do have a metaphor that I like for these High Holy Days and here it is.

But first…

A Little Background
The High Holy Days start with Rosh Hashanah (a new year's day signifying the anniversary of creation, 5770 years ago, if you can pretend to believe that) and end with the fast of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the next week.

During the Ten Days of Awe — as we call 'em — we are to make sure that we apologize and are forgiven by those we have hurt during the past year. The idea: we can't ask for divine forgiveness if we have unresolved conflict with our friends.

So, we ask forgiveness — sincerely, paying reparations, making sure we don't continue the ill behavior — and we are forgiven. If we are not forgiven, we apologize again. If, after three apologies, we are still not forgiven, we move on. At that point, it's no longer our problem.

There's more to the traditions, of course, but this is a blog. You want education, go to yeshiva.

So, I'll just describe the metaphor that I use to tie it all together.

I think this metaphor came from Rabbi Michael Paley, who taught a four-day course in Holidays at the Wexner Heritage Foundation. (If I'm wrong, I guess this is a good time to apologize and ask for forgiveness to the person who taught me this. If only I knew her or his name.)

The Big Metaphor:
Humans have a one-year lease on Earth. It is expiring on Yom Kippur.

The Jews are the lawyers representing humanity in real estate court.

The Landlord sees the terrible state of the property and is considering tossing the tenants out. Can't blame the Landlord on this one. Humanity burned, polluted, and so much worse. At the top of our violations, humanity has started fights up and down the hallway with each other. Many of those fights have ended tragically, with loss of life.

So, it makes sense for humanity to hire a lawyer for representation. (And, frankly, Jewish lawyers have a pretty good reputation, so why not?)

The Landlord is not amused.

And that's what we do for ten days. We try to redeem ourselves on behalf of everyone on the property, Earth. And, we hope, the Landlord will extend the lease for another year.

As holidays (Holy Days) go, it's high drama.

You Think This Is Stupid?
Some people hate religion. They think it is to blame for the world's ills. I've heard and read those arguments and think their arguments are facile.

I don't intend to argue all that here, but I'll try to get away with these two thoughts:

  1. I don't reject ideals because of imperfect implementation. If we did, there wouldn't be a marriage in this world. Nor anything else constructive. All good things are based on imperfect implementation.
  2. Rejecting houses of worship because they are filled with sinners is like closing hospitals because they are filled with sick and dying people. That's why we have hospitals in the first place: so there is a place to heal the sick. Same with houses of worship: we have them so we can confront our failings and try to live up to our ideals. (What about the annoying, self-righteous sinners who do terrible things in the name of religion? See thought #1 above.)

If I have hurt you in any way during the past year, please forgive me. At the worst times, I'm clumsy with my words and actions. Because I communicate so broadly, who knows what hurt I've created. Egad.

Feel free to let me know if I've hurt you. I would like to apologize privately.

May the coming year bring you every happiness, good health, and meaningful living. May our lease be renewed and we live as neighbors and friends in justice and peace.