Everybody has his or her own favourite masterpiece. Paintings, or sculptures, that discloses new beauties every time you look at them. Authors, or writings, that inspire you every time you read them. Etc.
I am a trivial person and things I like are often trivial. For example, I like the song by the Pet Shop Boys, "It's a sin".
When I look back upon my life It's always with a sense of shame (...) At school they taught me how to be So pure in thought and word and deed
If you remember the song, but even if you are too young to remember, you already know it is about sex. To be more specific, it is about the hypocrisy surrounding sex education in Catholic and Christian education. The result? As an adult
everything I long to do no matter when or where or who it's a sin.
Yes, it is definitively about sex The Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the account of the first sin in human history does not mention sex. Yet, since its beginning, Christianity have read in that story a transgression of sexual nature. And such a reading has left consequences. We may think we live in a secular society, but still, when we use expressions like sin, sinner, or sinful, we think to sex. Judaism, and the Rabbis, have a different approach. They are not interested in the nature of the first sin committed by human beings. Rather, they ask in the Talmud, “When was the transgression of Adam committed? Before or after Shabbat?" Such a question has very serious implications. God concludes every moment of the Creation, until Shabbat, with the words Tov, Tov Meod. Good, Very Good. (if you do not believe me, come to shul on Simcha Torah and you will hear it for yourselves). If the first sin of human history is committed after Shabbat, then the sin is an act of rebellion against God. God has created the world, and is tov, good, perfect. After that, Adam transgresses, and brings destruction. The world which was so good and so perfect, became corrupt because of the man. If we follow this line of reasoning, we may conclude that the world, the Divine Creation, is all fine and good, and that the man, causes trouble. That human beings have a destructive impact on the wonderful world of nature. I suspect this is a view shared by some of the people who campaign against climate change. They probably believe that progress and science, like any human intervention on nature, brings only destruction. But if the sin had been committed before Shabbat, during the process of Creation, then the sin itself is tov, it is good. We have to conclude that God Himself has created the sin. It is an incredible idea, but it is a legitimate idea. God created the sin. If it is so, when we sin, when we transgress, we do it because God wants us to transgress and to sin. And if we follow this line of reasoning we end up in a very complicated place. If our sins, our transgressions, our failures are all part of the Divine plan, then why should we try to do better? God has decided for us, so let us go with the flow, let us make a transgression, and then another, and then another, who cares, everything is part of the Divine plan, and you don't mess with God. The Rabbis do not give a definitive answer to this very important question, whether Adam and Eve transgressed before or after the first Shabbat, whether the sin is part of the process of Creation, or rather was the first act of human rebellion against God and the world God has created. It is a bit like the story of the new Rabbi in town, who on Shabbat sees half of the congregation standing during the Shema and the other half sitting. Both parts are persuaded that their way is correct, this is the proper custom of the place. So, the Rabbi asks the senior warden, who explains that this custom is precisely that, each side follows its way and argues against the other. If you look for a definitive answer on this matter, "what does Judaism teach about human sin?" you won't find it in the Talmud. Rather you will find this in a debate about timing. And rightly so. A clear-cut answer is impossible. The history of the Jewish people is full of acts of rebellion against God, whose outcome, totally unpredictable, turned out to be according to God's plan. There are acts of rebellion, sins and transgressions, that are part of the Divine plan. Zionism is a case in point. The first Zionists were socialists, secular, even atheists. They wanted to turn the Jews into a people united by national aspirations and not by religious faith. They actually detested the Jewish religion and took pleasure in mocking the rituals. But then the Army of Israel, the secular State founded by irreligious pioneers, liberated Jerusalem and brought the Holy City under Jewish sovereignty, after 2000 years of exile. The dream of the religious Jews, Reform or Orthodox, has been fulfilled by secular Jews. Without their sins and their transgressions of some decades ago, it would not be possible for us to pray in Jerusalem today. On an individual level, there is an answer to the question "is the sin a rebellion against God or are our transgressions part of the Divine plan?" And the answer is the teshuvah, is what we are doing today. By doing teshuvah, trying to repent, we go through the list of our sins and of our mistakes. And we ask God, "please, please God, bring our deeds, our failures and transgressions, and make them part of Your divine plan. Allow our sins to have beneficial consequences". Such a process is clear and evident even visually. Look around this room. You see that the white is the prevailing colour. The bimah is white, and the mantles of the Scrolls are white, and the Rabbi wears a white vest. Isn't it strange? We are going through the list of our sins, we are expiating, and facing our mistakes. We are facing the dark side of our souls. Why then we are wearing white? We do not ignore our failures and our transgressions. Rather we try to bring them into the Divine Plan, we want to amend and correct if it is possible. We face the dark of our failures and our shortcomings, and we try to expose them to light, and to reconcile them with the white of our aspirations, of our ideals, of what we want to be. It is difficult. It is a demanding spiritual work that requires sincerity and honesty, and all our energies. In a moment we will have the Torah service. Then the Mussaf, the additional service, during which we will read the description of the ritual of Yom Kippur in the Temple of Jerusalem. Why do we read such a description? After all we do not pray for the rebuilding of the Temple, then what is the point of reading the description of a ritual that will never be re-enacted. There are tens of reasons, ethical, mystics, but these will be for another sermon. Think about this. On that day of the year, the Israelites used to bring to the Temple every failure and every dream, every aspiration and every transgression, every sin and every good action. Everything that was in the souls of our ancestors was present in the Temple in Jerusalem, on that very day and confessed by the High Priest. The reading of the ritual invites us to do the same. To search into our souls honestly. To face our mistakes and our failures, and their reasons, whether we did wrong because we were not strong enough to keep our inclinations under control, or because we misjudged the consequences of our actions and our choices. And, figuratively, to bring everything here. Our desires and aspirations, as well as our mistakes and our failures. And hopefully our purpose is to do better and become, after this day, better people and better Jews. May the Holy One help us in this powerful transformation.