Come Sunday at sundown Jews the world over begin a 10 day period of inner reflection. Starting on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and culminating on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the time is known in Hebrew as “aseret yemai teshuvah,” the 10 days of repentance.
Just imagine if Donald Trump were Jewish. And orthodox. I know it’s farfetched, but who would have thought Ivanka would convert and be orthodox.
Anyway, I bring this up because with the onset of Rosh Hashana many Jews engage in a repentance practice called “mechilah.”
As no one is immune from a fall from grace, particularly as it applies to our dealings with other human beings, mechilah provides a custom to seek and obtain forgiveness from those you might have offended, knowingly or unwittingly, over the previous 12 months.
Prayers and acts of repentance for transgressions against god’s commandments may secure divine forgiveness. But wrongs committed against another person require two-step absolution. God alone does not grant forgiveness for interpersonal failures. Only the person one has offended can absolve the transgressor before god may intervene.
So Jews go around asking for mechilah, for forgiveness.
Return now to the opening premise. Just imagine how peripatetic Trump’s next two weeks would be if he had to seek forgiveness from all he had offended in the last year.
Where to begin? John McCain? Too late. But there are plenty more on his list from whom to solicit forgiveness.
Jeff Sessions would be at or near the top of the list, as would Omarosa. Michael Cohen, for sure. Long time favorite target Hillary Clinton would be joined by his new Twitter and campaign rally foil, Maxine Waters.
A special corner of his list would be dedicated to law enforcement and the intelligence community. Robert Mueller. James Comey. Andrew McCabe. Peter Strzok. Lisa Page. John Brennan. James Clapper. Bruce Ohr. Rod Rosenstein.
Politicians, both domestic and international, engendered Trump outrages in the last year: Jeff Flake. Bob Corker. Chuck Schumer. Nancy Pelosi. Theresa May. Angela Merkel. Kim Jong-un. Justin Trudeau. Of course, a special measure of forgiveness would be asked of the as yet unknown administration insider and member of the “resistance” who contributed an anonymous, scathing depiction of the Trump presidency to The New York Times.
Then there are the journalists who have vexed Trump to public insult: Carl Bernstein. Don Lemon. Jim Acosta. Joe Scarborough. Mika Brzezinski. Bob Woodward.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations are people, Trump would also have to seek mechilah from Google and Twitter, from Amazon, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN.
Mechilah is generally expected to be a one-to-one forgiveness ritual. But in Trump’s case, perhaps a communal approach might be in order as he seeks mechilah from all Mexicans and from all the Latino families he traumatized by forcibly separating children from their parents when they sought asylum entry into the United States. His disparagement of the Muslim community, at home and abroad, also calls out for forgiveness.
But perhaps the most deserving recipient of Trump’s mechilah plea would be the American people, their values and their institutions which Trump has dishonored and abused time and again.
We cannot expect our leaders to be perfect. But as was said of John McCain in a tearful eulogy by his close friend Lindsey Graham on the floor of the Senate, “He taught me that honor and imperfection are always in competition. I do not cry for a perfect man. I cry for a man who had honor and always was willing to admit to his imperfection.”
McCain would be considered a “ba’al teshuva,” a master of repentance. You don’t have to be Jewish to earn that honorific.