How did the על חטא (al ḥet) begin?

I don’t know.
How­ev­er, I imag­ine it some­thing like this

[…from the archives (with minor updating)]:

Bethami knew the way down the narrow windswept alleyways of Tiberias blindfolded

The lap­ping of the tiny waves of Galilee offered a con­stant guide. She had walked this path many times, since her ear­li­est years, when she went with her moth­er to vis­it the rab­bi. The paving stones had already been worn smooth by the time of her youngest mem­o­ries.
R. Ila’i greet­ed her at the door to his apart­ment.
The soft light through the win­dows reflect­ed off the white­washed walls. The cool­ness of the room, in con­trast with the humid­i­ty out­side, com­fort­ed her. He sat there, as usu­al, on a woolen car­pet in the mid­dle of the room, qui­et­ly watch­ing the pat­terns on the wall before him. Scrolls and wax tablets cov­ered with writ­ing lay on the low tables beside, and in the cub­by holes behind him.

she came today on behalf of her husband, Judah

He had recent­ly begun to suf­fer extreme short­ness of breath and intense pains in his chest. A very high-strung man, Judah had worked hard and become impor­tant in his quar­ter of the city. In his free time he orga­nized efforts to coun­ter­act the increas­ing­ly unpleas­ant decrees of the Roman occu­piers. Though his neigh­bors agreed with his efforts, Judah felt they were too slow to respond.
Betha­mi sat before the rab­bi, near his line of vision and wait­ed.

A person’s char­ac­ter can be judged by the way they han­dle three things בשלשה דברים אדם ניכר
drink בכוסו
mon­ey ובכיסו
and anger ובכעסו


Betha­mi under­stood the wis­dom couched in the word play [Eru­vin 65b], she didn’t know how to express it to Judah.
The nights were already longer than the days and in the deep val­ley where they lived, below the lev­el of the great sea, this made for very lit­tle day­light. Soon R. Ila’i would meet with his clos­est col­leagues to eval­u­ate how they had spent their time since the pre­vi­ous year. He request­ed that Betha­mi invite Judah to join him.

the sun set over the steep mountain to the west and the day of pardoning began

R. Ila’i wel­comed his col­leagues, his stu­dents, his neigh­bors, and a few invit­ed guests to his home. He had put the scrolls and wax tablets into their cub­bies ear­li­er in the day. The tables, he moved against the walls. Almost every­one in the room knew the oth­ers on a per­son­al lev­el. Judah sat near Pin­has, a young man he con­sid­ered a loose arrow, a young ruf­fi­an. See­ing the fel­low there with all the oth­ers ran­kled him.
Judah had nev­er heard R. Ila’i say an unkind word or per­form a hurt­ful act, and yet, as each new arrival entered the house, the rab­bi took him aside, bowed his head and spoke words of apol­o­gy.


Many are the ways I have dimin­ished the spark of the Holy One that lives in each of you. These actions may seem too insignif­i­cant for you to have noticed them. Nonethe­less, they weigh heav­i­ly on my heart. You know that much of my day I sit here and watch the walls that now embrace us. On them, as though [l’havdil] on a pagan stage, I see the way you act with one anoth­er. I see also the pain you car­ry inside yourselves–and cause for each oth­er. Please, today, each of us is equal in our trans­gres­sions. We each have drawn the string of our bow and loosed the arrow only to miss the mark. This does not make us bad peo­ple. Our Cre­ator makes us pure. The Holy One cre­at­ed us with only the abil­i­ty to aim, not the guar­an­tee of a per­fect hit every time.

All of us will die. Some of us may die this year, oth­ers at a lat­er date, but we all will die. I can­not pre­vent the dying, none of us can, but we have the abil­i­ty to ease our path through this life.

Some of us car­ry pains that point to their end. Our anger only increas­es the pain we car­ry and con­stricts our way. Togeth­er we can release the fury that burns in our souls.

Oth­ers among us have not yet found their way; there appears no clear­ly defined trail ahead, we seem­ing­ly blind­ly hit those near­by destroy­ing the har­bor that shel­ters us. Togeth­er we can buffer your bouts and guide you toward safe paths.

Our cre­ator has set aside this day of par­don­ing for us to gath­er the spent arrows lay­ing around the field. Come with me as, togeth­er, we search the plains and thick­ets of our lives for those words let loose with­out thought, even those acts of help­ful­ness left undone.

having begun the process, R. Ila’i closed his eyes for a moment in silence

Those in atten­dance shift­ed uneasi­ly in their places. When he opened them he looked intent­ly and per­son­al­ly at each one of them with a invit­ing smile on his face. Slow­ly, he list­ed a litany of wrongs. In every­thing he men­tioned, he spoke for all present, as though the mis­takes had been com­mit­ted not against any one indi­vid­ual among them, but against the body of cre­ation itself. Though many had nev­er heard the phras­es before, they rec­og­nized them­selves in the images evoked.


For the error we have made, which hurt You, will­ing­ly and unwill­ing­ly.
For the error we have made, which hurt You, by hard­en­ing our hearts.
For the error we have made, which hurt You, by act­ing with­out think­ing.
For the error we have made, which hurt You, by the words of our lips.

as he continued some of R. Ila’i’s colleagues began to add expressions of their own

And then his stu­dents joined in the process. For every­one rec­og­nized some­thing of him­self in the words spo­ken soft­ly, and in truth.
Judah found him­self strange­ly at ease. The bur­dens of his respon­si­bil­i­ties sud­den­ly made dis­tant as he sat among these peo­ple. Bethami’s involve­ment with the rab­bi over many years had puz­zled him. She had gen­tly cajoled him into attend­ing the gath­er­ing and he now began to feel the effort was worth­while. He looked around him and saw men like him­self: some younger and oth­ers old­er, some who made their liv­ing by their wits and oth­ers by the sweat of their brow. Each one of them shared the same bound­aries of birth and death. His dai­ly rou­tine did not bring him into close con­tact with any one of them, yet he rec­og­nized vari­a­tions of his own fail­ings and strengths in them as he looked around the room. Nonethe­less, he avoid­ed the eyes of young Pin­has.

for his part, Pinhas squirmed

R. Ila’i had met him in the mar­ket one day and invit­ed him to come for the evening. In his late teens, all he knew was that he hat­ed. He felt no alle­giance to any­thing. Only the sear­ing eyes of R. Ila’i con­vinced, almost forced him to come. He would just as soon be out­side maraud­ing as sit among all these strangers he’d seen around town. Yet, though no one held him there, some­thing drew him clos­er into the cir­cle.

the lamps began to sputter out

R. Ila’i again closed his eyes and lapsed once more into silence. He stood, turned to Pin­has, helped raise him to his feet and said sim­ply: “Please return in the morn­ing.” He did the same with Judah. Then his stu­dents rose and helped Ila’i’s col­leagues get up as the neigh­bors and oth­er guests also arose.

they all left the quiet of R. Ila’i’s home into the silence of the street

The three-quar­ter moon shown through gath­er­ing clouds that had moved north through the Jordan’s val­ley. As they slept, an ear­ly, unex­pect­ed rain washed the city.



Their home had been dark, and Betha­mi asleep, when he arrived, so Judah gen­tly awoke her before he left for R. Ila’i’s in the morn­ing.
He briefly told her of the evening. At the men­tion of Pin­has, he bris­tled, but noticed that he looked for­ward to see­ing the young­ster and hoped he would attend. Judah felt the heat and humid­i­ty rise as he walked to the rabbi’s house, but the dust of the sum­mer that dirt­ied his bare feet the pre­vi­ous evening on his walk had already washed into the sea. This morn­ing he heard the singing of the waves as they licked clean the edges of the city. He, also, felt clean­er when he arrived at R. Ila’i’s home.

the day was long, much of it spent in the silence of thought

R. Ila’i repeat­ed the exer­cise of the pre­vi­ous night more than once. The day­light on each man’s face brought more direct­ness to everyone’s expres­sion in a way that the dim­ness of the evening’s lamp­light dis­guised. Each time they repeat­ed the phras­es they found new mean­ings in them, saw more of them­selves in one anoth­er and, as they looked around, for­gave each oth­er for their shared short­com­ings.

except for Pinhas

The young­ster arrived late in the morn­ing, sweaty and disheveled from some stren­u­ous activ­i­ty. Though they had reserved room for him, when he sat, he fid­get­ed as though he had no space. His errat­ic motions dis­turbed the seren­i­ty that had begun to emerge among the oth­ers. The man beside him tried to ignore his pres­ence but it did no good. His agi­ta­tion per­sist­ed.

R. Ila’i stood and the room turned silent

He stepped over to Pin­has, sat before him and placed his hands on the young man’s shoul­ders. Once again, the rab­bis eyes bore into his. The hands on his shoul­ders were strong; yet the touch felt light. The eyes were deep and dark yet he saw soft­ness in them. Ila’i spoke:


For the error we have made, which hurt You, will­ing­ly and unwill­ing­ly.
For the error we have made, which hurt You, by act­ing with­out think­ing.
For the error we have made, which hurt You, know­ing­ly and deceit­ful­ly.
For the error we have made, which hurt You, by wrong­ing oth­ers.

As he spoke, R. Ila’i slow­ly released his grip on Pin­has. The young man felt the hands become a ten­der caress and the chaos in him began to sub­side.
R. Ila’i returned to his place and the men beside Pin­has each placed a gen­tle, restrain­ing, hand on his knee.

toward the end of the day, doves perched on the windowsill of R. Ila’i’s home

He spoke of Jon­ah:


We need to change. Per­haps you con­sid­er that an impos­si­ble task. You sim­ply can­not change. You can’t release the anger and get to the point of for­give­ness. That was one of Jonah’s prob­lems. He felt per­verse­ly good about his anger and resist­ed change. Remem­ber…? God cre­at­ed a plant that briefly shad­ed Jon­ah and then destroyed it? Jonah’s response was ‘I am great­ly angry, even unto death.‘
Jon­ah was so angry he could die. God dis­cussed Jonah’s anger with him:
Jon­ah said:

Peo­ple need You to clear­ly and imme­di­ate­ly pun­ish wrong­do­ing. Peo­ple can’t change, they nev­er change.

God respond­ed:

Jon­ah, I threat­ened to destroy Nin­eveh because of their actions. Some of the peo­ple were prim­i­tive, igno­rant, cru­el, bar­bar­ic and not much dif­fer­ent from their cat­tle, but they can change, they have changed. This abil­i­ty to change makes them human, that is what makes me their God, as well as yours.

Jonah’s book is about us, ordi­nary peo­ple, whose poten­tial as humans is our abil­i­ty to change, and to let go of our anger.

as R. Ila’i spoke his voice dropped to a near whisper so everyone gathered closer to him and one another

Some of the men even held each oth­er in the cir­cle with their arms on one another’s shoul­ders. As the day end­ed, the light in the room again dimmed, but this time the changed light did not dis­guise the faces of those gath­ered, it soft­ened them. A new light of for­give­ness shown from them, enlight­ened them and made them feel lighter of heart.
R. Ila’i paused again…


Five days from now, when the moon fills, we begin the Fes­ti­val of Sukkot. Each one of us is a sukkah, a frag­ile, del­i­cate, tem­po­rary taber­na­cle, a booth, a dwelling place of the Divine. So, also, the soci­ety with­in which we live is such a sukkah. I can see no room for anger and hatred or destruc­tive behav­ior in our sukkot. May the effort of this day help lift the bur­den of anger from our hearts and ease the path of our lives. May the embrace we share with one anoth­er now guide us toward cre­ativ­i­ty not destruc­tion.
U’fros aleinu sukkat shlo­mecha. Spread over us the taber­na­cle of Your whole­ness, Your peace.

This but­ton, dat­ing from the 1960s stress­es the point sug­gest­ed by R. Ila’i, that all of us are con­nect­ed and respon­si­ble for one anoth­er and our actions. The more com­mon expres­sion of the idea is “all of Israel are respon­si­ble for one anoth­er — כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה” Shavuot 39a

all Israel are friends

all Israel are friends

Date: 1960s
Size: 3.175
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text כל

ישראל

חברים

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I am pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

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