The Seeker of Peace


The Scapegoat of Yom Kippur
October 9, 2008, 11:16 am
Filed under: Forgiveness | Tags: , ,

Last night was the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I haven’t celebrated Yom Kippur since I moved out of my parents’ house many years ago. Normally, I let it pass without much thought. However, this year is different.

In a bit of synchronicity, yesterday I was on Lesson 39 of Workbook of A Course in Miracles. A major theme of the lesson is “If guilt is hell, what is its opposite?” This thought made me look at Yom Kippur in a new light.

As a child, I found the most memorable part of the Yom Kippur service to be the scapegoat. The idea is that you touch the goat, and pass your sins of the past year to the goat. The goat is then sacrificed or released into the wild to meet its doom. (Traditionally, that is – I assume my synagogue simply returned the goat to wherever they borrowed it from.)

To my cynical mind, this seemed much like a Monopoly “get out jail free” card. But the ACIM lesson gave me new insight. The tradition is not to enable bad behavior, but rather to free us to take right action in the future. Whoever started the scapegoat tradition realized that guilt forms a barrier between God and us.

It was a particularly timely lesson for me. My job is to manage people’s investment portfolios. Despite my prudence and care, the worldwide financial panic has hit my clients’ investments along with most people’s. I have felt tremendous guilt over the outcome, even though my actions were well-considered.

I realized yesterday that my guilt serves no purpose. It won’t improve my actions in the future; on the contrary, it could paralyze me. Most importantly, it keeps me from doing the real work of spreading love and joy.

I wish I could say that this realization suddenly transformed me. Alas, I’ve tried to let go of guilt before, with only sporadic success. I think being raised Jewish implanted in my ego the stereotypical “Jewish guilt.” Guilt seems to be a favorite technique of my ego for reasserting itself.

The good news is that I understand better than ever before the importance of moving past guilt. Right now, my clients need love and peace of mind, and as Lesson 39 says, “You cannot give what you do not have.” It’s obvious to me now where I should focus my efforts.

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