Torah reading: Deuteronomy Chapter 31
Haftarah reading: Hosea: 14: 2-10; Joel 2: 15-27; Micah 7: 18-20
This Shabbat, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is known as Shabbat Shuvah, The Shabbat of Return, after the first word of the Haftarah:
Return (Shuvah) O Israel to the Lord your God,The Mishnah (Yoma 8:9) teaches us:
For you have fallen because of your sins.
Take words with you and return (ve-shuvuh) to the Lord;
And say to Him:
Forgive all guilt and accept what is good;
Instead of bulls we will pay the offering of our lips.
Hosea 14: 2-3.
For sins between a person and God, Yom Kippur provides atonement, but for sins between one person and another, Yom Kippur does not provide atonement, until he has obtained the forgiveness of his fellow man.To illustrate this principle, I will call upon Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his opera, The Marriage of Figaro, which premiered in 1786.
Thus did Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah expound: "From all your sins before God you shall be cleansed." [Leviticus 16:30]. For sins between a person and God Yom Kippur provides atonement, but for sins between one person and another Yom Kippur does not provide atonement, until he has obtained the forgiveness of his fellow man.
For those who don't know the story, the Count Almaviva, upon inheriting his father's estate, promptly abolished his Droit du seigneur - the right of the lord to have sex - to legally rape - his female serfs. This was a right that a lord especially enjoyed on his serf's wedding night - the lord had a right to rape the bride before her new husband could consumate the marriage. As the opera opens, two of the Count's serfs, Susanna and Figaro, are about to get married, and Susanna informs Figaro that somehow she has aroused the Count's sexual passions, and the Count wants his old right back so he can be the first to have sex with her on their wedding night. For the next three hours, Susanna, Figaro, and the Countess Almaviva plot to frustrate the Count's desires. But the Countess herself moans that she is forced to demean herself by associating with her lowly serf (1:50 of the recitativo - sorry for the Spanish subtitles for those who don't read Spanish):
In the final scene:
Susanna and the Countess have exchanged clothing. The plan is to trick the Count into making love - in the darkness of his garden - with the lady who he thinks is his serf Susanna, but is really his wife. At 1:30, Figaro pretends to woo Susanna disguised as the Countess. At 1:55 a furious and jealous Count breaks in upon the lovers and demands that his serfs bring him weapons - does he plan to murder Figaro and the Countess his wife? At 2:40, the "Countess", actually Susanna in disguise, begs for forgiveness, and all the serfs join her, but the Count refuses. Then, the Countess reveals herself (2:55) and demands "forgive them for my sake." At 3:25 the Count drops to his knees and begs his wife for forgiveness, and the Countess, with some of the most moving music Mozart had written up to that point in his life, at 3:55, forgives her husband. The final chorus begins at 6:00. In 1786, when Mozart wrote the Marriage of Figaro, he assumed that the Count and Countess Almaviva, and all their serfs, would live happily ever after - at least that is what the final chorus all but states.
But did they live happily ever after? We can question the sincerity of the Count's begging of forgiveness to his wife. Who knows if he thereafter remained faithful to his marriage? But, even assuming the Count's act of teshuvah to his wife was genuine, there is one thing very lacking in his teshuvah. He has spent the last three hours on stage attempting to rape Susanna, and, by implication, a second serf Barbarina, but it doesn't occur to him to ask them, nor Susanna's new husband Figaro, nor any other serf, for forgiveness. Nor, having secured the promise of her husband's fidelity, does it occur to the Countess to demand that her husband now ask for the forgiveness of their serfs.
The Count Almavivas and Countess Almavivas would pay dearly for their failure to ask for forgiveness from those whom they had wronged for so many centuries. Within three years, their blood would drench the soil of France. The lucky aristocrats would flee, losing property and their serfs, the unlucky ones would pay with their heads.
So, the question is, if the aristocrats of France and Europe had begged their serfs for forgiveness, could the French Revolution have been averted?
On Monday, September 17th (coinciding with the first day of Rosh Hashanah), we observed the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. (For anyone who may be interested, Rosh Hashanah in 1862 was on September 25th - and there were Jewish soldiers who fought on both sides of that battle.) Antietam tops 9-11 as the deadliest day in American history. Nearly 3,700 Americans were killed at Antietam that day, and over 17,000 wounded. At least 618,000 died in the Civil War, although numbers actually killed may have been closer to 700,000. Could the Civil War have been averted if the slave owners had begged their slaves for forgiveness?
Asking for forgiveness is a powerful act. Refusing to do so is also a powerful act. The aristocrats of Europe, and the slave owners of the South, were too proud and haughty and too full of themselves to ask for forgiveness. They looked down on their slaves and serfs as inferiors, and one simply doesn't ask an inferior being for forgiveness. But if, by some miracle from Heaven, there had been this great spiritual awakening among the aristocrats of Europe in 1786, or among the slave owners of the South in 1856, and by some miracle the aristocrats or slave owners had begged their serfs or slaves for forgiveness, they could have changed history.
If I have offended anyone here, please forgive me. May those of you who are fasting on Yom Kippur have an easy fast, and, for now, Shabbat Shalom.