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For many people, the parallel between the pre-holiday tradition of asking those we have wronged for forgiveness and the amends process outlined in the 12 Steps is especially significant.

Yom Kippur has heightened meaning for those in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. For many people, the parallel between the pre-holiday tradition of asking those we have wronged for forgiveness and the amends process outlined in the 12 Steps is especially significant.

In the days before Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, Jews are encouraged to review their conduct of the past year and acknowledge any wrongdoings. Similarly, Step 4 calls for “a searching and fearless moral inventory,” which includes taking responsibility for actions that caused others to be hurt.

And, because both Judaism and recovery are programs of action, it is not enough to ask God for forgiveness if another person was harmed. Before we say the final prayers on Yom Kippur, we must apologize to those whom our behavior affected. Likewise, Step 9 requires recovering addicts to make “direct amends” to people they harmed, knowingly or not.

Rabbi Benny Greenwald
Rabbi Benny Greenwald

However, the 12-Step program makes a clear distinction between extending an apology and making amends. More important than apologizing is taking the necessary actions to set things right. 

“We are taught that the ninth step is not just about saying, “I’m sorry,” says Frank, a longtime member of AA. “It’s about showing them how sorry I am by how differently I act. 

“On Yom Kippur, we aren’t saying sorry to God; we’re saying we will do our best to act differently. The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah, which means return. In the 12 steps, this means returning to aligning our behavior with God’s will.”

In  “Atonement or Forgiveness?” at Chabad.org, Rabbi Ben A. explains the Hebrew word for atonement is kaparah, meaning “wiping up.”

“If I spill my grape juice on your carpet, I can say sorry and be forgiven,” he writes. “But the stain is still there. Atonement comes when I get the carpet cleaners to clean your carpet.”

Rabbi Benny Greenwald, director of Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House, explains how the holiday of Sukkot provides a joyful transition from the solemnity of Yom Kippur. 

“On Yom Kippur, we acknowledge our wrongdoings, and that is the first step of making amends,” he explains. “But we don’t get stuck on that because following is Sukkot, the holiday of joy. It’s the joy that comes from learning from our mistakes when we reexamine what we did and learn how that can make us a better person. 

“After we acknowledge our defects and make amends to those we hurt, then we can move forward and experience the joy of transformation, the holiday of Sukkot.”

For information, visit friendshipcircle.org/friendshiphouse.

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