In digital world, have we done enough to atone?

Alan Lew gave us the adult version in his not-too-long book with a very long title, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared:  The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, when he wrote that “Yom Kippur is the day we all get to read our own obituary. It’s a dress rehearsal for our death. That’s why we wear a kittel, a shroud-like garment … why we refrain from life-affirming activities such as eating, drinking and procreating. We are rehearsing the day of our death, because death, like Yom Kippur, atones.”
Harsh, yes? But here’s a children’s version of those 10 important days that Lew sees as a prelude to or  rehearsal for to death: a little song that was popular some decades ago in the lower grades of many Jewish Sunday schools: “Let’s be friends, make amends — Now’s the time to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Let’s be friends, make amends — Say that you forgive me. On the 10 days of Teshuvah, time to worship, time to pray — Take my hand and I’ll take yours, let’s be friends for always.”
Lew used basic words in his straightforward look at the year’s holiest day, but the way he put it is frightening. On the other had, while little children had to be coached a bit with “amends” and “Teshuvah,”and maybe even “forgive,” they loved the idea of holding hands with their friends and singing about it.
I wrote this a week before the Day of Atonement; you’re reading it a day after. We’ve all, already, been sealed in that big Book of Life (or Death). Maybe we’ve fulfilled those old requirements for the Ten Days of Awe that I was taught as a child:  Teshuvah, Tefilah, Tzedakah “avert the severe decree.” Penitence, prayer, charity were harder lessons to learn than holding hands with friends, but they’ve lasted me for a lifetime.
Recently, in one of its excellent daily “Ten Minutes of Torah,” the Union for Reform Judaism presented dueling views of modern-day Teshuvah: May one, or may one not, use social media to fulfill the requirement of atonement?  Is an apology — either blanket or individually personal — delivered on Facebook or by Twitter, actually sufficient to fulfill that part of the required penitential trio?  It was a lively debate, with pros and cons taking into account the fact that so much contact has become so very impersonal these days, both justifying and denying the possibility that apologies given in the same media where things occurred to merit them can suffice in our time for the face-to-face contact (or even the telephone call!) required in the past. (I’m not a social media user myself, but I have to wonder: Where might an email apology fit?)
Tefilah seems easy enough:  we all go to services of one sort or another and say the required prayers of preparation during Rosh Hashanah. But when we come together again at Yom Kippur, the praying is different; we’re now speaking to God in the plural, the assumption being that we’ve taken care of our separate obligations and are now entitled to do our prayerful duty as a community. Our souls should be cleansed before we attempt this. But have we earned the right to be doing so with our smartphones and computers?
Tzedakah should also be easy. Yes, almost everyone gives something, some time, to someone(s). But is the act itself enough to cleanse the soul for final judgment?  How many live up to Maimonides’ highest order of giving — anonymity, in which givers don’t know who receives their gifts, and recipients don’t know from whom the gifts came?   A few cans to a food bank — is that “gift” sufficient?
In today’s complex society, I sometimes wish we could all just hold hands and pledge friendship forever, like those once happy children who are now all texting adults. But barring that, I hope we’ve all merited inscription in the Book of Life for 5777!

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