Yom kippur

"For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord" Leviticus 16: 30

By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, September 16, 2010

Repentance is one of Judaism's most uplifting concepts. The Rambam teaches that a person could be despised and hated by God one day and be loved by Him the next. All it takes to make the difference is a sincere process of repentance.

On my recent trip to South Africa, I witnessed an exhilarating example of national repentance. Just a few years ago, the country was governed by a brutal, racist regime, making it a pariah state. Now, it has transformed itself into a highly respected democracy.

The prophet tells us "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, remove your evil deeds from My sight, cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice, relieve the oppressed ... though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1: 16-18). My teacher, Rabbi Menachem Schrader, reminded us that the metaphor of cleaning the filth of sin is not just about flinging clothes into a washing machine, but the painful task of scrubbing by hand.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission enabled those who had perpetrated heinous crimes under the apartheid regime to come forward, confess their guilt and apologise to their victims. The process was gruelling, but it helped purge some of the bitterness between blacks and whites; freeing everyone to start their lives again.

Watching people of all colours mingling together on the streets of Africa, I learned a powerful lesson about repentance. I caught a glimpse of the infinite potential for each of us, our communities and our nation to escape the bonds of the past and to begin afresh.

Last updated: 10:22am, September 16 2010