Yom Kippur is the Jewish annual day of I’m Sorry.
The great medieval philosopher and codifier, Maimonides, informs that during Temple times the scapegoat of Yom Kippur had the power to affect forgiveness for the entire Israelite nation. The people had to make only the smallest amount of effort.
Because the day itself marked Moses’ descent from atop Mt Sinai with the 2nd set of tablets (proving that sometimes there are second chances in life), it was enshrined as a day of atonement for all generations (a day of being ‘at-one’ with God, ‘at-one’ with our fellow human beings and ‘at-one’ with ourselves)!
But, in the absence of our Temple ritual, today we have only prayers, our reflections and our heartfelt, soul’s desire to be close to God – which can move the Almighty on Yom Kippur from the seat of judgement to the realm of mercy.
In a recent Torah portion (Deut 30:11-14) we read that to experience God’s presence doesn’t require heroically climbing to the Heavens to bring back the key, nor does it necessitate crossing the oceans to discover a solution, but rather God’s presence is close to each of us, ‘in our hearts and on our lips’.
In other words, if we would only listen to the Divinity within us, we could intuitively understand our life’s work; what the late former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks referred to as, ‘where what we want to do meets what needs to be done.’
Listening to our internal soul takes effort.
Yom Kippur with its abstinence from food and drink and the repetitive chanting of the 13 Attributes of God, is intended to open for us the ‘gates’ of our inner being. Since we are all unique, we will each hear something different. If done properly, the inspiration we receive will move us in the direction of greater purity of purpose and character.
But this Yom Kippur I am conflicted – like Charles Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities – I sense a gap is greatly widening between old and new, between institutional and disenfranchised, between conventional and unconventional. In some parts of our community, an unwillingness to dialogue is growing, and the portion of young members finding ways to express their sense of purpose other than in synagogue is already sorely noted by most communal rabbis.
That’s why this year the theme of compassionate reconnecting is so vital. Beyond tolerance, we need to listen to each other better. The pandemic pushed us apart for reasons of self-preservation. But most of us quickly realised, that unselfishness is the only viable response.
So, on this Yom Kippur, if you’re going to synagogue or just sitting quietly in your home, spend a few moments counting the blessings of the past year. And then let’s ask ourselves, ‘what is the best thing I can do with my life in the weeks and months ahead?’ You might be surprised by what you ‘hear’ and how emancipating the experience can be.
May we all be blessed with a new year of good health … and with the courage to take one step further in our life’s spiritual journey!