pronouns: they, them, their

Forgiving Oneself – Ourself!

Jewish Holiday

Rev. Chani Getter

September 24, 2023

Tonight begins a sacred day in the Jewish tradition, a holy day of reflection and forgiveness. 

As I sit here re-reading this Yom Kippur reflection, I notice that this may be overwhelming for some, it discusses requirements of arranged marriage and the practice of hair-shaving for religious purposes. Please read with care and put it aside if it stirs up too much. 

A Yom Kippur Reflection

I look into my reflection trying to find myself. It is 1994, my long dark hair has been shaven off. I look like a stranger, hazel eyes staring back at me over high cheekbones. It is two months past my 18th birthday. It is the day after my arranged marriage. As is customary in my community of origin, my mother comes over and shaves my hair the morning after I was obligated to do the most intimate act with a stranger. A Stranger whose hand I have never even held. 

I keep staring into the mirror as I become numb. My voice disappears. My body freezes up. I shower for a long long time, hoping the hot water will thaw me out. I step out of the bathtub, I dress and barely remember the next week.

The next month, I take hair-clippers to my head and shave the hair that has grown in. I continue shaving monthly for 5 years… until I enter therapy. Then I begin hearing my own voice, and I can no longer hurt myself purposely. I put the clippers down. I stop shaving. I let my hair grow in.

Tonight, we will begin celebrating Yom Kippur. It is believed that Yom Kippur is the same date in the Hebrew calendar when God told Moses that God forgave the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf. We mark this day faithfully holding that the day itself has the energy to forgive. That we are forgiven this day, simply by showing up, by being present, because all those years ago, God forgave the Israelites.

The Rabbis teach us that even though the day in its very essence forgives, we need to ask forgiveness from the people we have hurt if we want to be forgiven for things that we have done wrong towards them.

But, what about forgiving ourselves?

How do we let go of the pain we have perpetrated on ourselves – purposely or unconsciously?

I wish I had an answer for you…

This year, I sit in this question as I grapple with the “me” that took the clippers in hand every month and shaved off my hair for all those years. The me that felt obligated to do that. The me that felt compelled to be part of the community, to do what was expected of me, to say yes even though everything in me was screaming no.

As I mediate in the mornings, I wonder…

How do I forgive myself for the hurt I have inflicted on me?

I bring compassion to this part of me, who so wanted and needed to please my parents and my community, and to satisfy the expectations that I had internalized.

I remember how from a very young age; I had been shut down. I had been taught NOT to speak my truth, but to parrot others’ voices.

I open my heart to the pain that I felt from shaving and to the one who had no choice but to violate myself over 60 times.

I sit in it all of it and weep…

What do you need to forgive yourself for?

How can you hold that version of you with compassion?

How can you see, in hindsight the totality of what happened, in the context that it happened, and bring kindness to yourself in all of it?

May we be blessed with a year where we can forgive all the ways we have hurt ourselves, have the courage to apologize to those we have hurt, and in doing so bring wholeness to the world. 

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