Jonah and the Whale

Days of Awe: Sin


Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish New Year. I spent part of it at the insight meditation center in downtown NYC. It was a mix of liturgy, exercises, meditation, and lecture.  One of the lectures discussed the notion of sin.  On Yom Kippur we ask God and our fellow human beings to forgive us for our sins, we ask ourselves to forgive ourselves for our sins.

What is a Sin? The western tradition treats sin as a binary opposite to holiness or goodness. The devil is in opposition to god, sin is an evil and opposite to good.  But, the notion of sin in Judaism, to translate it from the Hebrew, means missing the mark.  So imagine you are an archer and you dont hit the bullseye, you miss the mark, you err. This is not opposite to the mark, it is a distance away from the mark.  Darkness is not the opposite of light but it is just a distance away from the light.

Sometimes it is difficult to square this away with the accounting/bookkeeping rhetoric of the traditional Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah liturgy.  There is a Book of Life, that we all want to be inscribed into. This is ostensibly the book of all the people who will live the following year.  The notion of a book and book keeping brings to mind debits and credits. A sin would be thought of as a debit, and this is our common conception of sin in Judeo-Christian tradition, and a a good deed is a credit.

But maybe we should think of the book as the blockchain, as a record of action, a record of transaction and movement. Not negative, not positive not something that needs to be reconciles on the day of judgement but perhaps having a consensus proof. The recording into the book of life is the reconciliation of the blockchain not a settling of accounts.