During the upcoming Jewish High Holidays--Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)--Jews will gather in large numbers in synagogues throughout the world to participate in special services that welcome the religious year, 5767.
The joyous two-day Rosh Hashanah observance, marked with distinctive music, prayers, and food, begins on Friday evening Sept. 22 and concludes 48 hours later. It's a holiday brimming with hope for a sweet and peaceful new year as well as a strong commitment to assuming life's responsibilities. Apples and honey, the traditional Rosh Hashanah foods, convey that theme.
The fast on the solemn Day of Atonement starts on Sunday night Oct. 1 and continues for 26 hours. The lengthy Yom Kippur services, when Jews absent themselves from work and school, call for recognition of one's shortcomings and a demand for personal repentance.
Because it is customary to celebrate the High Holidays with family and friends, this year I publicly invite three well-known people to join me for services: the film star Mel Gibson, Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. I strongly believe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have important messages for each of them.
The anti-Semitic and sexist remarks a drunken Gibson made in Los Angeles following his arrest in July are clear signs, as he has publicly acknowledged, that he needs to seek atonement. Attending Yom Kippur services would aid Gibson in overcoming his serious ethical failures.
He would be compelled to answer the three demanding questions that are the core of the High Holidays. What have I done with my life during the past year? Where am I now with my life? And, after seeking atonement for my sins, how can I move forward in the New Year?
Gibson would learn the gates of repentance are always open to those seeking genuine amends for the harm and hurt they have caused.
Nasrallah could also benefit from attending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. He has proudly proclaimed: "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. ... We are going to win because they love life and we love death." He urges Hezbollah members in their confrontation with Israel to seek death as Islamic martyrs. His eerie message is "Long live death!"
Nasrallah's love of death is in sharp contrast to the basic message of the High Holidays. One key prayer calls upon "God, the Sovereign of life who delights in life, to inscribe us in the Book of Life in the New Year." The belief is that God "delights in life" and is not a malevolent Presence who desires our deaths. Death is, of course, the price we humans pay for living, but it is neither ennobling nor something devoutly to be wished.
Hamas leader Meshal, who lives in Damascus, is the protected guest of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Over the years, Meshal has ordered Palestinian suicide bombers to kill innocent Israeli civilians by blowing themselves up on buses and at shopping malls and restaurants. Tragically, using children and women has been part of his brutal strategy.
At Rosh Hashanah services, the biblical story of the binding of Isaac is read. The Genesis account describes Abraham's willingness to slay his young son as an act of faith, an offering to God. But just as the patriarch raises the knife to kill his offspring, God pulls the distraught father back from the abyss and Isaac is spared. Instead of becoming a victim, Abraham's son becomes the revered second patriarch of Israel.
Many scholars believe this chilling story is a repudiation of the child-sacrifice cults prevalent in ancient times. The willingness to use children as suicide bombers is a modern form of that dreadful practice.
Since Jews, Christians, and Muslims all link themselves spiritually to Abraham, perhaps Meshal would understand that the God of Abraham does not desire nor condone the lethal sacrifice of youngsters.
Perhaps I'll be surprised and Gibson, Nasrallah, and Meshal will join me and my family at High Holiday services. But somehow, I doubt it, and that's too bad.