In a fantastic article published in the Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks describes what he calls the Jewish way of “repentance”.
He describes the way in which we live through the courtroom drama of the Ten Days of Repentance culminating in Yom Kippur, and explains how God allows humanity to sin, but yet apparently forgives us:
God wrote forgiveness into the script. He always gives us a second chance, and more. All we have to do is to acknowledge our wrongs, apologize, make amends and resolve to behave better, and God forgives. It allows us to hold simultaneously to the highest moral aspirations while admitting honestly our deepest moral failings. That is the drama of the Jewish High Holy Days.
He explains how the Jewish people are called on by God to perfect the world and how God asks how each and every one of us has contributed to that challenge in the past year:
That is the question we are asked on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As we ask God to write us in the Book of Life, he asks us, what have you done with your life thus far? Have you thought about others or only about yourself? Have you brought healing to a place of human pain or hope where you found despair? You may have been a success, but have you also been a blessing? Have you written other people in the Book of Life?
To ask these questions once a year in the company of others publicly willing to confess their faults, lifted by the words and music of ancient prayers, knowing that God forgives every failure we acknowledge as a failure, and that He has faith in us even when we lose faith in ourselves, can be a life-changing experience. That is when we discover that, even in a secular age, God is still there, open to us whenever we are willing to open ourselves to Him.
You can read the full article here.