Yom Kippur Commentaries 46 Replies A section for posting commentaries from any source, as well as personal comments, about Yom Kippur.
From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb
“Ki Vayom Hazeh Yichaper Aleichem L’Taher Etchem Mikol Chatocheichem Lifnei Hashem Titharu” (Lev. 16:30). For on THIS DAY (Yom Kippur) G-d will forgive you, and cleanse you so that you may be awakened once more to the Glory of the Lord.’
Many associate this auspicious day of Yom Kippur as a day of fear (‘Yirah’) and Judgment (‘Din’). But our Sages suggest that it is more of a day of SEEING (‘re’eh’), clearly a day of measurement of where we are rather than Judgment, and most importantly a day of Grace, and G-d’s love and forgiveness. Elijah, the Prophet, experiences that G-d is not found in the wind, nor in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in a still small voice – “Kol D’mama Dakah” (1 Kings, 19:12). When our consciousness is centered, not agitated, we become ‘Seers,’ open to the Presence of G-d. In our silent state (removing mind’s distractions), we can hear the whispers of G-d surrounding us. Awakened to nature we can hear the birds chirping, the wind rustling in the trees, the dog wanting us to play, many gifts, many soul messages awakening us to our duties and unique potential contributions. THIS DAY is a day of joy!
Our Sages say that it is our confidence in G-d’s love and our YIELDING and FEELING G-d’s Grace on THIS DAY that makes this day a ‘Mechaper’, a bestower of Grace, as the final step in our return home. We are to give up our enervating ‘Willing’ at this point, which is insufficient for a full Teshuva, and realize it is only G-d’s Grace, G-d’s love for us that ultimately makes our Teshuva possible and complete. We are to work hard, to grow in our Teshuva process to this point, but it is on Yom Kippur (‘THIS DAY’) that we are embraced by a unique energy, and our souls are enwrapped in the Presence and Love of G-d. This is a moment of discovery, of exhilaration and embrace at the final Neilah service, and indeed, throughout the whole special day! So, we bow down (at ‘Aleinu’) in gratitude and recognition of the power of G-d’s love; and in complete faith, our inner love is drawn out of us, loving G-d with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. We realize our ultimate dependence on our partnership with G-d, the All-Powerful, but are overjoyed that G-d’s essence is complete love for us, and thus, our Holy Day brings forth great joy. The revelation of the AWARENESS of G-d beyond the limitation of living only within our senses and limitations of our mind has reached us on ‘THIS DAY.’
Moreover, Yom Kippur is a ‘Day of Joy’ because no matter that we have failed during the past year we were still given a SECOND CHANCE to return and we have become whole again, overjoyed to proceed with a clean slate. We have removed the impediments, the defenses, and cleared a way for the Light that has always been there. We also know that this is a process that endures trials and changes and we will not always experience this Clear Light of cleansing via Yom Kippur. Our desire to change and ‘return’ brought us closer to Hashem at this moment, and we realize that it is only G-d’s great love for us that makes our return possible. This is the understanding that it is the DAY ITSELF, G-d within the day which makes forgiveness possible. Can we practice everyday to make it ‘This Day,’ to know and feel and be aware of G-d’s Presence?
We do not reach this state simply by our ‘willing’ via all the steps that we have taken in the Teshuva process, but we recognize that it is this final step of the Grace that G-d bestows upon us because of our sincere, diligent effort of will during these days of Repentance that makes our new soulfulness a reality. We recognize that G-d’s Majesty, G-d’s sovereignty can be affirmed and experienced as a palpable verity and we become reborn to a new perception of a greater reality that leads us to inner joy, faith, inner peace, equanimity, and a commitment to make this gift of life more available to all who share this planet with us. The sharing of this energy becomes our mandate. It is reinforced every day through our practice of prayer and study. This day becomes the mitzvah for EVERY DAY!
Once we have made the previous effort of the steps of Teshuva, the final stage of Yom Kippur brings us to the Grace of the Lord, as G-d gathers us in with Great Love, transformed to a new awareness of G-d’s Presence and Lovingkindness. That is why on Yom Kippur we don a WHITE Kittle (garment) symbolizing purity, love, joy, and symbolizing death to the old way of being, and embracing the ‘new’ renewed state. We have been transformed by our efforts, and finally by G-d’s accepting Love. Yes, the DAY ITSELF is the ‘Mechaper’ (the Forgiver) and thus it is the ‘season of joy.’ We are free to begin again, having grown, having cleansed ourselves of much of our dross that distances ourselves from Hashem, and have been welcomed home to G-d’s Presence. We have removed the outer layers that have prevented us from coming closer to the Light and blessing of soul consciousness. We are now those who have heard the still small voice, and the clarion call of the Shofar. G-d has manifested eternal compassion for us even after the ego distractions have clouded our path and our soul’s destiny. Just by showing up on THIS SPECIAL DAY we have acknowledged our desire to grow and return to the path of G-d, to G-d’s Light and blessing for us. We have been blessed to return to our communities, to G-d’s love which is always present, and to our soul within, to the inner kernel of goodness that we all possess. So, we celebrate in joy the opportunity to rediscover our true selves, to come home, to remember that we are SOULS within a body. We break the fast with joy and come together with our friends and family. It is like a jovial wedding party. At Mt. Sinai we were partners under the Chuppah (wedding canopy). We now remember who we truly are, whole in soul partnership, returning to the Shechina, to Neshama, to community, to G-d’s love; to what we can become, to our unique destiny, to the truth to stand for what we believe in. We discover our identities and rediscover our loyalty to our commitments.
Thus we have gone through a process of assessing where we are relative to whom we can become, our unique destiny. In this context we face our challenges and conjure up the truth to see and stand for what we believe. At the sound of the Shofar, at the end of the Neilah/Ma’ariv service we wake up and recommit to redeem the world, holding the energy of ‘Thy Will Be Done.’
May you have an easy fast and a consummation of a complete Teshuva bestowed upon you by G-d’s Beneficent Grace, feeling cleansed, enlightened, ensouled and energized to continue the work that your soul calls you to complete, eager to continue the path to emerging wholeness and the healing of our world.
Blessings and Love,
Teaching from Reb Zalman
This evening, we begin Yom Kippur, twenty-six hours in which, as Reb Zalman z’’l put it, G-d becomes incarnated in time. In a 2007 interview, he compared the Jewish traditions of Yom Kippur to the legend of the phoenix, an opportunity to rise from the ashes each year. “The teachings are that on Rosh Hashanah a new year comes down. And on Yom Kippur, the old year gets replaced,” he said. “There is a willingness from the divine to aid in forgiveness
and scrap the old sins.”
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Here I am Hineni
An interactive prayer for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Mussaf
Here I am planted in front of You and in front of my fellow conspirators in prayer
to pray for myself and on behalf of my community.
Some of the people here I know — I love them.
Some of the people here I don’t know — I love them too.
Empty me out of all that separates me from You and from everything I love the most I am a vessel an instrument a harp on the edge of the bed the wind blowing through me.
Play me like a harp a flute an oud.
Empty out of me that combative Detroit get out of my face or I’ll wipe the floor with you attitude [substitute here your own obstacles and when you do take a moment to name them: what is it that separates you from God and all you love the most?]
As for me, I will love as purely and as wholly as I know I can.
Our prayers our actions our lives rescued from the externals.
All our prayers rise uninterrupted like doves straight to heaven, guide us to the sacred heart of the world.
We will never lose our yearning for peace depth and beauty. We will never settle for less.
With all our song-poems prayers we honor our fathers and mothers our grandfathers and grandmothers all our holy ancestors who rest at the foot of the Throne of Glory,
With our prayers our actions our song-poems today and all days —
We remember that nothing —
Nothing in God’s creation is ever lost.
Existential Rhythms of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
The language of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers is not meant to terrorize us into self-negating submission but at shattering complacency.
RABBI DAVID HARTMAN
Existentialists spoke about confronting one’s mortality as a necessary condition for achieving human authenticity. Although a preoccupation with death can create nihilism and a paralyzing sense of the futility of human initiative, nevertheless, the Jewish tradition believed that the themes of human mortality and finitude could be integrated into a constructive and life-affirming vision of life.
The language of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers, such as the explicit enumeration of the different ways that a human life can be destroyed, is not meant to terrorize us into self-negating submission. The stark, evocative imagery of the liturgy is aimed primarily at shattering complacency. The impact of this experience can be life-affirming insofar as it serves as a catalyst in a process of self-creation and moral renewal.
Focusing on human mortality and the contingencies that wreak havoc upon human lives heightens our sensitivity to the deadening effects of habit and routine. People often deceive themselves into believing that they can successfully defer living the kind of lives they consider worthwhile until some future time. While not questioning the importance of reflecting on the meaning of one’s life, they believe they can postpone dealing with this issue.
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“Why become confused and troubled by the meaning of my life now? I can deal with it later, when I retire, when economic realities are more favorable, when I will be free of parental responsibilities…” This attitude is naïve and self-deceptive because it ignores the real consequences of present patterns of behavior and learning that can weaken and ultimately extinguishes one’s natural capacity to live life deeply and seriously.
Another theme of Yom Kippur, teshuva, is expressed in the call to return, to renew, to re-create one’s self and in the appeal for divine forgiveness and atonement, in the recitation of “for the sin we have sinned…” and other confessional sections of the liturgy. The essence of teshuva – the crucial principle without which this concept would be empty of meaning – is the belief that the past need not define the future. A person can break the causal chain of habit and defy the seeming necessity of repetition that suffocates spontaneity and the joy of life.
Aryah & Wendy…This is how I found this…I was looking for alternative wording or translation that has more meaning for me for the Kaporos prayer. Though I didn’t find any, I came up with this:
“The 5780 AtoneNet booklet is now available. There is also a version that can be printed as a booklet. Let’s apologize for one another this year. Only anonymous submissions accepted.”
This is a website in which you can anonymously state what you would like Forgiveness for this year.
All of the statements can be used Yom Kippur Services..
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Rabbi Pinchas Giller
Our Day In Heaven
In general, Jews expect to maintain a becoming agnosticism about metaphysics. They tend to observe the admonition of the second chapter of the Mishnah in Hagigah, namely that “whoever considers these four things, better that they should never have come into the World: what is above, what is below, what came before and what will be after.” Hence, it is considered slightly tasteless to speculate about Heaven, or the afterlife, or even the nature of the soul, in conventional Judaism.
The High Holy Day liturgy is an exception to this rule. If we are to take such prayers as U’Netana Tokef at face value, there is a Heavenly Court, with two ledger books, the Book of Life and another book too terrible to mention. The souls file through the courtroom to receive their judgment. Perhaps, as portrayed by Yehudah Leib Peretz in his classic tale “The Three Gifts,” sins and mitzvot are weighed on a scale, with the preponderance of one or the other indicating whether that person would live out the year. “Who by fire and who by water” is the question intoned in the prayer and, for the simple believer, the focus of properly directed anxiety.
I used to think that the U’netanah Tokef prayer was written, as the tradition informs us, during a particular watershed period in the development of Judaism, in the 12th-13th century Rhineland, in the era of Rashi, his interpreters the Tosafot and the mysterious pietists of the era called the German Hasidim. This was a flowering of Judaism that occurred amidst the horror and tragedy of the first Crusade. The prayer’s doomy predestination seemed to fit the grim medieval fatalism of that era.
However, I recently read an article by the great Rabbi David Golinken which averred that the prayer had been found in fragments in the Cairo Genizah. That would make the prayer far earlier, with a Middle Eastern provenance. I was pleased to hear this, because, after all, the earlier the source, the more accurate it is. Hence, Rabbi Goliken reinforced my emunah, my faith, yet again.
Throughout the Teshuvah cycle, the individual and community are compared to helpless serfs in an autocratic monarchy, pleading for mercy and a gracious judgment by a capricious, inattentive monarch, pessimistic in the knowledge of their own inadequacy. “You gave me the sacred means to reproduce,” goes the “Prayer of Worthiness” recited traditionally on the eve of Yom Kippur, “and I squandered and defiled it.” I have seen old men piously reciting these lines. “In the heavenly academy and the earthly one, I beseech permission to pray with the sinners,” goes the preamble to Kol Nidre. The liturgy treats the Jews as if they are blameless and utterly corrupt at the same time and, anyway, their fate is random, and up to God.
Across the spectrum of Jewish observance, this will be the most concentrated time that any Jew will spend in the synagogue. The synagogue movement preceded the Rabbis of the Talmud, and although these Rabbis gave us the Judaism that we practice, they did not initiate the synagogue rite. It came before them, in the two hundred or so lost years between the construction of the 2nd Temple by Ezra and Nehemiah and the coming of Alexander the Great in 336 B.C.E. The Rabbis of the Talmud would like us to think that they controlled the synagogue movement, just as they would like us to think that they had authority over the Temple in Jerusalem, but neither of these premises is true. Synagogues were set up as replacements for the Jerusalem Temple, and, as the latter was considered a portal to Heaven, every synagogue was similarly a portal. So it is that on the High Holy Days, our experience of Judaism vaults past the sometimes petty concerns of the Rabbinic mentality into the pure, ecstatic service of the old Temple and the synagogues that came to replace it in the mysterious early days of the return to Zion. Hence, the ingathering of worshippers, of “people we only see once a year,” should not be considered a corruption or distortion of our aims in synagogue life. This is the time of ingathering, for the community to look around and see who is still here, to welcome back the disaffected and so commence, the seasons of our greatest ascent.
Tip the Scales
ROSH HASHANAH, YOM KIPPUR
BY SHULY RUBIN SCHWARTZ
“—who will live and who will die . . . who will come to an untimely end . . . . who by plague . . . who will be brought low, and who will be raised up?” (U-netaneh Tokef, from the High Holiday liturgy)
In my earliest memory of this prayer, I am a young girl standing between my mother and grandmother in synagogue amidst hundreds of others. Both women are sobbing uncontrollably, as they recited these words. I was puzzled by their outward display of anguish but knew enough not to interrupt them to ask what caused it. They grasped in a way I had yet to comprehend just how tenuous life is; they understood that this one prayer more than any other captures the fragility of human life that the Days of Awe magnify. As I grew up and experienced pain, suffering, and loss, first in others and then eventually intimately, I appreciated the yearning in their supplications. I too felt the fervent hope that they undoubtedly shared, that our prayers and actions might spare us, our loved ones, the Jewish people.
This year, the words of the U-netaneh Tokef prayer resonate in new ways. In a matter of months, our lives have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. We feel its devastating effects at all levels, from personally to globally. So much death, suffering, economic devastation, widening inequality and entrenched injustice. As our worlds became smaller during these past six months, we experienced anger, frustration, anxiety, and even hopelessness, feeling like bystanders watching our social fabric seemingly disintegrate and our lives grow more precarious. This unrecognizable state of existence led some of us to inadvertently begin early the process of introspection that culminates on Yom Kippur. For many, this focus inward initially heightened our insularity. But our fears also began to awaken within us newfound gratitude for what matters most—having a roof over our heads, food to eat, and cherished family and friends—and our self-reflection eventually impelled our gaze outward. Just as the prayer ends with a call to action—teshuvah, tefillah, tzedakah (repentance, prayer, righteousness)—this pandemic period of introspection and proximity to the fragility of life has ushered in a greater desire to repair the world.
At first, we took tentative steps, discovering new ways to offer comfort, celebrate happy milestones with those we love, and meet the needs of those who depend on us. For those of us who have been able to emerge from lockdown, we found new ways to act on our values by working to rebuild our communities, our country, and our planet.
As humans, we continually straddle conflicting impulses—between hope and despair, action and lethargy, generosity of spirit and destructive self-absorption. The “call to action” in our times can feel unachievable, for the need is enormous and our actions may seem too small and insignificant to make a difference. Chanting the U-netanah Tokef and thinking of the wonderful people who died despite pious and good lives, we might feel inured to its call to action. I take comfort from the teachings of the twelfth-century Torah scholar, philosopher, and physician Maimonides, who understood human nature well and believed that even flawed humans—that is, all of us—are capable of taking action that will impact society for the good. “Every person,” wrote Maimonides,
. . . needs to see himself all year as if he is equally balanced between innocence and guilt. . . . If he does one mitzvah, behold he has tipped himself and the entire world to the side of innocence and brought about salvation for himself and for [everyone else]. (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:4)
In Maimonides’s view, we all carry within us the potential for both righteousness and sin. None of us will ever be wholly selfless or perfectly righteous. But, he notes, if we perform even one mitzvah, we tip the scales just a bit toward the good. And that can be enough to influence not only our own fate, but that of the world as a whole.
Let’s take to heart the words of Rambam, and read mitzvah expansively. If each of us undertakes even one action—in this moment we think about wearing a mask, feeding the hungry, voting, and taking even small steps to promote justice and equality in our communities, but it could be almost anything—we could tip the scales and make a real difference for the entire world. Our actions are necessary, though surely not sufficient, to make the world more whole. But they can light the way. This realization probably would not have sufficed to dry the tears of my mother and grandmother—the pain of loss and tragedy can never be erased—but it would have surely heartened them to dwell on the power of individual goodness to transform tears of sadness and fear to ones of joy and hope. May this indeed come to pass.
Wishing you and your loved ones a shanah tovah u-metukah—may 5781 bring you joy, fulfillment, good health, and a better future for us all.
From Torah Flora
Jonah and the Castor Bean
From Rabbi Menachem Creditor
From Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies
This Yom Kippur, Pay Attention to the Music
Rabbi Elliot Dorff
Torah Reading: Leviticus 16:1 – 34
Haftarah Reading: Jonah 1:1-4:11; Micah 7:18 – 20
I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from a philosophy department that espoused analytic philosophy, which focuses on the meaning of words. I am therefore probably the last person you know who would tell you to ignore the words of Yom Kippur – the words of the liturgy and the words spoken in sermons during the day. Words bear meaning, and the words of the Yom Kippur liturgy are especially graphic in describing the brevity and weakness of our lives, the lack of control that we have over much of what happens to us, and yet the great responsibility that we have for what we think, feel, and, especially, do. Undoubtedly, on Yom Kippur more than any other day of the year, rabbis strive to match the seriousness of the liturgy with the importance of their message. So by all means, do pay attention to the words of Yom Kippur.
But music also conveys meaning. The exact same words sung to different melodies or at a different cadence can mean completely different things. Cantor Judy Dubin Aranoff taught me that the Kaddish is traditionally sung to nineteen different melodies throughout the Jewish year, and listening to her sing the exact same words in different melodies and beats did indeed make them feel very different and thereby convey very different meanings, even though the words, if translated, would mean the exact same thing each time. The Kaddish is sung to several different tunes at different times on Yom Kippur, so listen for that and ask yourself what the music is trying to say to you.
For me, though, the Aleynu prayer is the best example of how music conveys meaning. That prayer began as part of the Malkhiyot section of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, the section that focuses on God’s sovereignty, because it asserts that we have a duty (aleynu l-) to praise God who created the world and taught us Jews our distinctive way of living (the first paragraph) and who, we hope, will teach that to the rest of the world so that all human beings understand that they must live with the recognition that only God is sovereign (not money, idols, etc.). The prayer is attributed to Rav, who lived in the third century, but there is some controversy among scholars as to whether that is accurate. In any case, during the Middle Ages the practice became to end every morning, afternoon, and evening service with the Aleynu prayer. During the year, the melody to which it is sung hugs the melodic line. In contrast, during the High Holy Days, the melody to which it is sung skips octaves. I want to suggest that that is not an accident, for most of the year we feel God’s immanence – that God is with and among us – but on the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, we feel God’s transcendence – that God is far above and beyond us and different in kind from us (in that sense, kadosh, holy). By hugging the melodic line during the year, the music articulates God’s immanence, and by skipping octaves on the Days of Awe, the music draws attention to God’s transcendence.
The same is true for the iconic music of Kol Nidre. It too skips octaves. Its minor key adds to the transcendent feel of God, for it expresses our sense of fear and awe before the One who will judge us on this day, knowing, as we inevitably do, that in the past year we have not lived up to all that God would want us to be in our interactions with each other and with God.
So this Yom Kippur by all means pay close attention to the words of the liturgy and the sermons, but also pay attention to the music. Both the words and the music will hopefully make the Day of Atonement the cleansing moral experience in the face of a transcendent God that Yom Kippur is intended to be. G’mar hatimah tovah.
From Rav Kook
These teachings were posted by Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein on his blog, Ha’orot-The Lights of Rav Kook
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Gather Together All Your Disparate Parts
Gather together all
The great truth
Return to Yourself and
All the worlds will Return To the Creator
This the secret of the Lights
The world will return
To the Source of its Being
And the light of God
the real Kippur
From Rabbi Marcia Prager
Meditation Practice for Kol Nidre by Rabbi Marcia Prager
Based on Reb Zalman z”l’s teachings for Kol Nidre.
We chant Kol Nidre three times. Each addresses one dimension.
Put your machzor down. Center yourself. Find a place where the body is in equilibrium.
We hear Kol Nidre three times. The first time we hear Kol Nidre for the body. Here I ask “are there muscles in my body that are that are committed to a particular way of being that does not serve me, that is an anchor for a destructive pattern of behavior that has begun to feel normal..
Are there vows or commitments to destructive habits that are lodged in my muscles because of old habits that I have held in my musculature. Can I stretch in new ways… can I actually teach my muscles new ways of being… We have muscles that we use consciously and unconsciously. Stretch some of them if you can. Try stretching facial muscles. Is their “at rest” position reflecting gratitude or disappointment.. or what?
Good, throughout the day return to this practice. Stretch into a new way of holding your body, a better way to use your face and your smile…
OK, center yourself again. We hear Kol Nidre again, with a message for the heart.
Give your heart muscle a massage. It is the most powerful muscle in your body. It is also the seat of compassion. Here too, you might have stored habits of heart that need change. We each have old emotional memories that have been stored up that derive from real experiences, but they are edited and stored in a way that now perhaps hurts us and holds us back. Old habits of feeling, old stale resentments that have become like vows that you need to let go of in order to release new creativity in your relationships. Massage your heart and allow it to release the vows that hold you back from loving.
Find a place where the body is in equilibrium. We hear Kol Nidre again. Examine any vows you made to different habits of mind.. different reality maps. You’ve said “You are really the truth…You are the way of understanding things that are happening that will always guide me.”
But some of those assumptions, some of those ways you mapped your reality may not be working any more. You may have to say “hey I am letting go of this reality map because it is no longer working for me. Because if I hold on to that map it is anchoring me in a perspective that is not a true enough picture. I promised that this would always guide me, but I find that it is not working for me and I would like to let go of that. But I want to hold onto the benefit of my experience, so where do I draw the line… what do I let go of.. The old reality map is ballast. I need to let it go.”
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
You Smell Good But You Don’t Have To
A message for Yom Kippur
In the yeshivah [study hall] on high and the yeshivah down below, al daat ha makom, with the knowledge of the Holy One, we are free to pray with those who have transgressed, sinners, outcasts, strangers, losers. Erev Yom Kippur. We are free to pray with them on this night, so, on all other nights, we are not free to pray with them? We don’t pray with them? We don’t associate with them?
Everyone is present tonight, everyone whether in or out we are all in tonight, or we are all out. We are all strangers tonight, or none of us are strangers. But tonight, we are together. There is no other tonight, or we are all Other tonight.
I am in Israel as a young man knowing nothing. The doors to the synagogues are all open, so that even the most secular Israelis can pass by, sit on the steps or stand on the streets and hear the sound of Kol Nidre being chanted inside. I feel the closest thing we have to one people, this night, during the chanting of Kol Nidre.
No one is outside the camp on Yom Kippur. There is another prayer on Yom Kippur, I put it on the title page of my Yom Kippur prayer book: Ketoret. Incense. In the traditional prayers, there is a chapter about the laws of incense that was prayed in the morning liturgy. There was great significance attached to this section of the liturgy. The Arizal taught that careful praying of the section on incense alone brings a person to teshuvah-transformation. In the Zohar, there is something about incense in the prayers that is purifying.
Incense was blended with great precision in the Holy Temple and burned on a golden altar morning and evening. There were eleven spices in the blending of the ketoret, including one called the chelbenah, a foul selling spice.
Chelbenah: The necessity to welcome the stranger, the sinner, the outcast, the other, into our prayer community, especially on Yom Kippur. There is no other. Or we are all other.
There is a personal dimension — each person too has an emptiness, a space, a darkness, a brokennesss that calls for healing, to be integrated, to be included — it is our chelbenah, and when we integrate the chelbenah it is the key in finding our wholeness. Who is the whole person? The one with the broken heart, said Rabbi Nachman (he knew).
This is the transformational healing that we pray for on Yom Kippur, that no part of the self, nor anyone from the community, be separated from the whole.
When there is no other we are all other and whatever separates us diminishes, or whatever insulates us from the heart of suffering dissolves. We become the heart of suffering. We are the heart of suffering, all of us.
We have five prohibitions on Yom Kippur, taken from the directive in the Torah to afflict our souls. We do not wash, we do not wear leather, we do not have physical relations, we do not eat, we do not perfume ourselves. We afflict our souls, we move ourselves symbolically towards suffering because we soften to the heart of suffering, we are the heart of suffering, we are all other all over, we are all strangers. We are, none of us, outside the camp.
There is no outside the camp tonight.
From Rabbi Margot Stein
“We each have two lives.
“The second begins
“When we realize we have only one.”
[Rabbi Margot Stein’s son Aryeh died six months ago, and she unfolded her grief on Yom Kippur by facing the prayer “Unataneh tokef – Who shall live, who shall die?” She is a writer and singer of Jewish music, including the songs for an eco-Jewish musical drama, “Guarding the Garden.” She is developing new approaches to Jewish education for developmentally disabled children. Rabbi Stein is a member of the Board of The Shalom Center. — AW, editor]
There is a moment I remember so clearly, it flooded my senses like a cold shower.
“Good Lord,” I realized, “my son is going to die.
“Within a matter of days, he will stop breathing, and I won’t. It doesn’t matter what I want, or prefer, or desire. It doesn’t matter what I have prayed for, fought for, researched and scoured the world for. There is another Will in operation here besides my own.
“Dear God, really? Is this your will for my 24 year old son? That he die from this devastating and aggressive pediatric sarcoma, as the tumors fill his lungs and cause him to gasp for air?”
And with that, I fell to the floor, doubled over with intense stomach pain, as though I’d just been punched. As I lay there, I willed myself to face this truth, this inevitability. I felt myself, if you can imagine, sort of unhooking my solar plexus, seat of my life force, from his, as though we had been tied by an invisible umbilical cord throughout his illness.
I released the thread of his life that I had been clutching these last months. And I let it go. Because I had to.
A few hours after he took his last, labored breath, as we were still sitting quietly watching his pale, noble-looking countenance, the light began to fill the room. It was midnight, in NYC. The light was fierce. It was light you had to feel, rather than see. It filled the space over his head. Even after his body left us, even after burial, the light remained.
By then, I felt a sense of speed, as though he were zooming around, joyful to move literally with the speed of light, joyful to be released from a failing body, even joyful to discover that there is, it would seem, more to life than this mortal flesh, that something beautiful remains that is Eternal.
I have learned many lessons from this death.
One of them is that having a strong spiritual practice, preferably rooted in a strong community of practice, can save your own life when someone you love is losing theirs.
Another is that humans are terrible predictors. We cannot predict what the future will be like, although we think we can. One of the things that gets in the way for many of us when we think about death, is our predictions. What it’s going to be like, how we’re going to feel, mostly how very hard it’s going to be.
I could not have predicted how strong his presence would be still, and how vibrant.
My friends, love really is stronger than death. I did not know this until 5 months ago.
On Rosh Hashanah it is wr itten, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, “Who shall live and who shall die?”
When Aryeh realized he was definitely going to die, he did several things. He asked me to move him from his dark and tiny shared apartment on the Upper West Side to a space filled with light and windows. My brother helped me locate such a space and three days later, Aryeh moved into it.
My sister, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Boston, and single mother, left her daughter with a series of cousins and friends and moved in with us. Myriam juggled New York and Philadelphia, trying to be in both places with sensitivity and presence, as I settled into caring for Aryeh around the clock.
A few days later, Aryeh spent an evening doing a life review with Mordechai Liebling and Talia Malka, who sat and talked with him late into the night.
At that point, we still thought he was going to die from pneumonia. But then the antibiotics fought that back, and one day he woke up feeling well enough to go out and buy an iPhone 6.
Hooked up to oxygen tanks and in a wheelchair, he bought that phone and sat on a park bench with his beloved Katy and kissed her in the cold spring sunshine.
A few days after that, he was able to get into a jacket and tie and, despite the wheelchair, oxygen tank, and medical support lurking in the background, took Katy to a spectacular 14- course tasting meal at a unique chef-driven restaurant called 11 Madison Park that was at the top of his bucket list, and which the chef and entire staff made even more memorable by treating him like visiting royalty, complete with private kitchen tour and an armful of treats and gifts. Oh, and they wouldn’t take a dime from us, the entire extravaganza was on the house.
Aryeh returned to the apartment pretty exhausted by that outing, but he said it was worth it. A few days after that, sitting in his cushioned medical recliner and by now struggling to speak, he took time with each of his siblings to bless them and tell each what made them special.
Another day, with our help and an 11 pm visit by our lawyer, he wrote a will, leaving his possessions to his siblings and a few dear ones and setting the intention to establish a fund to support students with disabilities at Princeton, a project that many of you have generously helped transform into a reality.
All that, all those meaningful end-of-life activities took place in about three weeks. He lived them with a gusto and intentionality that many of us do not get around to in three decades or more.
This past weekend, we had house guests, including a friend in her late 70’s who lost a son about 20 years ago. She told me that when people ask her how long it has been since Billy died, she says, “I blink and that’s how long it’s been.” Just the blink of an eye. Or 20 years.
People who lose loved ones feel them at unexpected times. When I get that feeling of his presence, it washes over me. Though I still feel him reveling in racing around the cosmos, I also know and trust that he is completely OK, whole, and healed, his only concern, for us here in a fractured world.
I’m relieved that his spirit seems to be peaceful, if a bit high-energy. And I have to laugh at the idea that, while in the body, only his mind was lightning fast. Now that he is in the realm of pure thought, there’s nothing blocking the flow of that energy.
But down here, where there are plenty of blockages, there are also waves of grief, and they are mine. Mine and all of ours who have lost those we love. I imagine my sorrow for what I’ve lost will continue to wash over me for the rest of my life.
Struggling with Teshuva
Unetaneh tokef asks, “Who shall live and who shall die?” Who shall really and truly LIVE, and who shall die a thousand deaths bef ore the final one? Who shall live, paralyzed by fear? And who shall die in a healing circle of deep love?
Our tradition offers us a way through, a way to “avert” or at least to soften, life’s severity. It teaches us that “teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah” [turning pur loves in a new direction, pouring out our hearts to the Holy One, and giving financial support to those who have been badly wounded by the world or who are working to heal the world] will help us in this life.
I know now that I cannot predict the future, much less control its outcome. If I ever thought teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah would literally help me avert the severe decree, I’ve certainly given up that delusion.
Like many of you, I’ve given plenty of tzedakah, served on boards and donated funds and giving my strongest years to the nonprofit community. I’ve prayed and led prayer and taught prayer so I guess I’ve got tefillah covered. That must mean it’s a matter of not enough teshuvah: did I not turn far enough toward God during this crisis?
I am trying to understand teshuvah in a new way these days. What am I turning away from? What am I turning toward? Do I need to turn away from resentment at the unfairness of life? Can’t I be even a teeny bit resentful that I do all these good deeds, behave in all the right ways, and God (whatever and whoever that is) didn’t see fit to save my son’s life?
Can’t I respond by being resigned, that it doesn’t matter what we do, because bad things really do happen to good people?
Can I erase the pain by getting on the bandwagon, and fighting for clean water, clean air, and to heal the food supply so that we all eat only clean, life-giving nourishment?
Shall I research genetics, or raise money to fund that research, until I can personally eliminate the mutations which cause cancer?
Teshuva is tough. It means we’ve been going along in one direction and now we need to go in a different one. What is the turning that I need to do, truly? And I hope you’re sitting there wondering what is the precise turning that YOU need to do. Maybe teshuva is not about living the most upright, perfect life possible. Maybe teshuvah is not about being as godly as possible in all your ways.
I read a book over the summer because I was drawn to its title: Flunking Sainthood. The book turned out to be a year-long exploration of different spiritual practices, in which author Jana Riess tries on each practice and reads the relevant writers and thinkers as she tries to understand and deepen into the practice.
And she flunks month after month.
She tries to keep an Orthodox shabbat, though she is not Jewish, and her family is totally baffled by the idea of dropping everything at sunset.
She tries to fast, Ramadan-style, through the shorter days of February, and is ravenously obsessed with food rather than with her inner spiritual life.
She tries hachnasat orchim, welcoming strangers, and can’t wait to get rid of them, and in fact takes off for a conference, leaving her husband to deal with them.
She attempts to pray devotional prayers at the set times throughout the day and finds it too difficult to compromise work, family and leisure activities so she compromises the prayer instead.
At the end of a year, she looks back at her string of failures and declares them to be a kind of victory after all. Why?
In the epilogue, she tells us that after she turned in the book, she received a phone call from a hospital in Alabama where her father lay dying. Her father had abandoned her family when she was 14, emptying their bank accounts and betraying their trust.
She and her brother went to his bedside, and she was able to forgive him all over again, even as she realized that her spiritual practices of the last 12 months, however imperfectly performed, had –
“forged her into the kind of person who could go to the bedside of someone who had harmed her and still be able to say, ‘I forgive you, Dad. Go in peace.’
“The power of spiritual practice is that it forges you stealthily, as you entertain angels unawares.”
She came to understand the infinitude of God, the temptation of turning one’s work into an Idol, the delusion of trying to learn a deep spiri tual practice in just thirty days, much less doing them on a DIY basis when they are meant to be done in community because, as she writes, “It takes a shtetl to raise a mensch.”
I love her sense of humor and the way she turns her failures into fodder. I love that she understands that spiritual practice takes time, that it deepens and ripens, and then when the crisis hits, we are more prepared for it than we thought, because we have the practices to support us.
Myriam and I had a yoga teacher named Alex whose father committed suicide some years ago, and who asked us to officiate as she laid him to rest. With tears in her eyes, she said, “All my life, I’ve been practicing yoga for just this moment.”
Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah are among the practices that support our change, our growth, and our ability to choose life even in the midst of the crisis that will surely come. At their best, they can help us realign with our highest purpose, and help us walk the walk.
My own teshuvah process has come to include learning to move away from the punitive, or self-punishing, model of self-improvement toward one that includes and embrace s as much of the full spectrum of joy, delight, love and good experiences that I can bring myself to withstand (which isn’t always that much).
My relationship with God requires me to experience all of life, not just its sorrow but also its joys. I’ve been so overwhelmed with the sorrows, of course, that I haven’t partaken of as much of its joys.
But Judaism teaches us that we have an obligation to the Holy One to experience all the joys that come our way, rather than refusing them. How many joyful opportunities have I missed because I just didn’t see them, so focused was I on being responsible and responsive to the crises?
You can respond to crisis but lose your responsiveness to life. You can become so committed to your anxieties and fears that you completely lose sight of the humor in being human. This hardly does honor to the Holy One, to the precious gift of life that we have received.
We have a choice, and the moment of choice is always now. It takes courage to choose life. It takes courage to let in the pain as well as the joy. It takes determination to stay awake and pay attention to your life so that you don’t miss the opportunities for joy that come your way.
Cultivating practice is how we stay awake to our lives. Teshuvah is having the humility to return to our practice. It is that moment during meditation when we realize we have been galloping along with our thoughts, rather than gently letting them go. When we turn our attention back to our breath or mantra or prayer or movement.
Turning and returning to this moment is the constant work of mindfulness, and the secret to a life more available to meaning, connection and fulfillment.
There are two significant prayer moments yet coming toward us this Yom Kippur morning.
One is Unetaneh tokef, a time when we recognize that we are choosing how we shall live.
The other is Aleynu, the grand aleynu with full prostration. I invite you to experiment with full prostration at that time, to experience unhooking your will from whatever it is that you are clutching too tightly, and prostrate yourself before the Ultimate one, whose timing and design for our lives remains a mystery, and before whom we surrender our willfulness to this Truth: Whatever will be, will be.
So this, then, is the accounting:
Who shall live? Whoever seizes the gift of life and calls it precious, whether they have half a century or half a month left to live.
Who shall live? One who lives out loud and at full tilt, not perfectly but with endless compassion for themselves and for all other beings.
Who shall live? The person who faces down their fears and anxieties, and says Yes to life anyway. Who shall live? One who knows that experiencing sorrow and loss won’t kill you. And since it won’t kill you, strive to keep truly living as long as you are alive.
I think I saw this on FaceBook, that source of great spiritual wisdom:
“We each have two lives. The second one begins, when we realize we have only one.”
Let this be that moment.&nb sp;
Let now be when you wake up to this one precious life.
Let this be when you choose to live like you mean it.
— Rabbi Margot Stein
From Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man
Law of Eternal Return
Posted on September 7, 2012
השִׁיבֵנוּ יְהֹוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
“Bring us back to you, H’, and we will return”*
Yes, we shall return, yes, we will come back,
though a checkpoint stands before us,
an interrogation booth, the place of close examination.
Who would confess sins without certainty of forgiveness?
Who would face shame without expectation of forgiveness?
Who would discard masks of virtue without assurance of forgiveness?
Cover our iniquities
wash away the stains
offer us the life realigned.
Show us a sign, and we shall return.
Strengthen our faith, and with no sign at all
we will come back.
*Lamentation 5:21, with special significance on the High Holidays
© 2012 Jonathan Omer-Man
Yom Kippur: Letting Go
Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels
On Yom Kippur, we let go. We let go of food, drink, sex, and comfort. We try to let go, to not hold onto our normal ideas and practices of what we need.
On Yom Kippur, we reenact the Temple service of the High Priest and his entry into the holy of holies. This entry has an important lesson for us. The deeper you enter into the temple, the less there is. The display, sacrifice, songs and crowds disappear as you enter inwards until, in the holy of holies, there is little left, no commotion, no elaborate ceremonies.
On Yom Kippur, we are trying to come to the holy of holies. And when we do, that red thread — the thread of sin, anger, hate, or resentment — is transformed into a snowy white of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. This is one way of understanding the process described in the avodah service: to transform the fiery energy of hate to the cool openness of peace and healing.
So, what can we let go of this year?
Letting go is what allows us to encounter the divine. The Psalms (verse 46:11) on a peshat level (the common literal reading) would be understood as, “Desist! Realize that I am God! I dominate (arum) the nations; I dominate (arum) the earth.” But on a deeper level it tells us, “Relax (hirpu) and know that I am God.” When we let go, when we release, we see divinity; for it is only our defenses, our walls, our fear which stop us from seeing the divine presence that is always there.
How do we do release? The verse has its own answer, reading “arum” at the level of derash (Rabbinic interpretation) not as “dominate,” but as “exalt.” When we exalt, when we touch awe, when we see that which is so far beyond us, when we move beyond our limited perspective, we stop holding on so tight. Or, to take it a step further, we can read arum homonym-ically at the level of sod as “naked, exposed.” When we let go (ie. stop protecting ourselves), and when we let it all in, we are open to the encounter with the divine.
What might it feel like to try this right now? Let go of the idea of who we are and who we have to be, instead just touching our true, always-present divine nature. Let go of the burden you are carrying around, the burden you can put down, the burden you don’t need, the burden of your fear, anger, resentment, jealousy, discomfort, shame, anxiety, or whatever your favorite burden is. Right now, invite yourself to just let go.
Perhaps this is the meaning of Kol Nidrei, this moving yet bizarre prayer where we annul all of our vows, both past and future. Perhaps annulling vows is about letting go, about impermanence. Perhaps it is about us not being fooled into thinking that we get to decide, that we are in control, that we can know how everything works out. Can we let go of things being a certain way? Can we let go of being in control? Can we let go of this vision of our lives, our homes, our careers, our partnerships and how it all has to be?
This doesn’t mean we have no vision of a good life and a good world that we want to pursue, but that we are not grasping for it, that we know we can’t guarantee it will turn out our way.
This is the invitation of Yom Kippur, to let go. So I invite us all to let go, to drop into the spaciousness which is our nature and the love which awaits us behind all of our barriers and fears. May we let go. May we use the letting go of the fast as an arrow to point us to a deeper letting go of the self and the journey of the High Priest as a map for our journey to our center of silence, our holy of holies.
Meditation Before Yom Kippur for One Who Cannot Fast
Though Yom Kippur is a fasting holiday — a day during which we abstain from eating, drinking, and even brushing our teeth or using perfumes — Jewish tradition recognizes that fasting is not a safe practice for all Jews. For this reason, children under the age of 13 and individuals who are pregnant or ill are not required to fast in Yom Kippur. For those who fall into this category, the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services provides a special meditation to recite instead, written by Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub.
Ribbono shel Olam / Master of the Universe;
Creator of All, Source of All Life,
Who Knows What is Deep in Human Hearts,
Who Nurtures Every Living Being:
As You know, dear God,
Yom Kippur is fast approaching, and because of my condition,
I am not able to keep the traditional fast —
I cannot abstain totally from eating.
On this Day of Atonement, this Sabbath of Sabbaths,
this year and every year,
it is so central to join the people of Israel
in denying ourselves food and drink for one day
so that we focus on correcting our misdeeds,
on knowing our mortality;
on reaching for a life of Torah, mitzvot, and lovingkindness;
You know, dear God, that it is not my intent
to be apart from our people and our tradition.
My current state of health makes it unsuitable for me to fast
So, dear God, I turn to You now in sincerity and openness:
Help me in the coming year to do my best in guarding my health.
Help us, Your children, learn how to protect our bodies from harm.
Help us support others in caring for their tzelem Elokim, their Image of God.
Teach us to help one another grow and thrive in Body, Mind, and Spirit.
Guide caring family and health care professionals in their partnering with you
to bring healing if not cure, support and strength if not an end to symptoms.
And if there is an opportunity for me to help others who suffer
by doing something they need or by being attentive company —
Grant me the ability to do this mitzvah with love and devotion.
Rofeh khol basar / Healer of all living creatures:
I thank You for the breath that is in me
for the community of Israel that lives
for the possibilities of today and tomorrow.
May my eating be as a fast;
May it be dedicated to You, to T’shuvah —
to the Renewal and Restoration of my Relationship
to You, to Others, and to Myself.
– See more at: http://www.reformjudaism.org/practice/prayers-blessings/meditation-yom-kippur-one-who-cannot-fast#sthash.fvrmNLYC.MvjuzgdR.dpuf
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
There will be time to push
Here you release
We will work you until
You become attentive
Put on a white suit
Mourn your former self
I am your doula
Every day of your life
From Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
Yom Kippur’s Surprising Lessons About Joy
For most of my life, I thought of Yom Kippur as a time for fear and trembling, a time for deep, powerful, intense work, and of course fasting and other forms of self-affliction. But somewhere along the way, I got to see another face of the day — one of dancing, singing and celebration as we ask for our lives to be rendered anew.
The Talmud tells us, “Atonement and joy go well together.” The medieval Kabbalistic book the Zohar makes the same case, but even stronger: “Yom Ha-Kippurim, hu yom k’Purim.” Yom Kippur is a day like Purim — the silly, irreverent carnival dedicated to joy and playfulness. It’s considered to be an ideal day for romantic matchmaking, and the rituals of Yom Kippur — fasting, ritually confessing, wearing white — are mirrored intentionally in the Jewish wedding ceremony.
None of this seems obvious, does it? But then again, joy isn’t obvious.
When we’re feeling most things, most times, there’s an element of distraction to it. We’re sad about now and afraid about the future, we’re angry about something that just happened because it taps into a whole host of things that happened a long time ago. We are so often bound up into a whole, complex network of thoughts and ideas from the past and the future. We manage, sometimes, to be both in the moment and somewhere else, in another point along the spectrum of time — torn, ever-so-slightly, in two or more pieces.
When we’re feeling joy, on the other hand, there’s only the moment of joy, and we take it in fully. We tend to experience more, and are newly attuned to the small, everyday flashes of beauty and grace that populate our lives. We suddenly notice the loveliness of the flowers on the side of the road, the crisp sweetness of an apple, the kindness paid to us by someone we encounter briefly. In joy, we feel more sensitized, more awake, more alive. And it’s that sensitivity, that openness, that situating oneself entirely in the present moment that opens us also to the transcendent, the holy, to the sacred stream of life that flows through us, connects us, surrounds us.
And yet, as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has said, “Finding true joy is the hardest of all spiritual tasks.”
Joy is actually hard and threatening for many of us, difficult to tolerate. We know how to do hurt, resentful, afraid, angry — those are familiar states, with a perverse sort of comfort to them. They may not be pleasant, but we know them, know how they work, know who we are with them. Joy is the unknown. We don’t always feel like we know who we are in the unfettered openness of the present moment, what might give shape to our lives if not the recurring drama, the clinging to the past or the crafting of stories about some vague, hypothetical future. Being present in the moment means accepting what is — not rewriting what happened, not desperately crafting what happens next. It’s hard to be happy. It touches a place deeper and more primal than even all of the old feelings of self-annihilation, something much closer to the core of who we really are. And that’s terrifying.
Feeling happy makes us vulnerable in a way that feeling terrible doesn’t. Because there is, suddenly, something to lose. Various Jewish cultures around the world have tapped into that, externalizing and personifying our fears about the fact that joy is non-permanent. My mother would always tell me not to talk about how well things were going, because the dybbuks — the demons — were listening, and would surely throw a wrench in my plans, or that I’d give myself a kenahorah, entanglement with the evil eye. Or, if you do admit your happiness, you have to negate it–again, as protection against the evil eye: “Things are going really well, puh puh puh.” It’s almost comical, except for the ways in which it reveals the abject terror we all have to just sitting with the joy we have, to owning it. Maybe we feel like there’ll have to be some price to pay later on for all the magic we’re experiencing now. Maybe we just don’t trust that this happiness is really here, is really real. Or maybe, as Marianne Williamson famously suggested, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Yom Kippur is the day when we taste a measure of our own power, our own light, our own expansive greatness. The day itself washes us clean. All the old hurts and angers can be, if we let them, released into the great beyond. The work asks us to go deep down into the core of our being and excavate everything that doesn’t belong, to offer up our indiscretions, our pettiness, our smallness, our fear and our anger — taking it out of our hearts, naming it, and telling it that it doesn’t need to rule over us any more.
Part of how we get there is by letting the hard stuff in. Sometimes the present moment is painful, and we need to stay present until the pain ebbs away. We can let go of the hurt and anger and sadness by first giving ourselves space to feel them, fully — trusting that they won’t destroy us, that given enough room to have full reign, after a while all the hard feelings will eventually wander off somewhere else.
And part of how we get there is by letting go. We need to let go of old narratives of ourselves and our hurts and sadnesses, and we need to make space for the magic and the mystery of right now. And when joy comes, when you let it in, you have a choice. You can try to bind yourself to it, get yourself tangled up in, it so that when you meet someone new, you’re already thinking and wondering if he or she will be someone you want to have around in your life on a permanent basis. You can decide that loving one class means that you must spend the rest of your life on that subject. You can become attached to the story turning out one particular way and inevitably be disappointed when it unfolds in a different direction. Or you can kiss the joy as it flies, as William Blake put it, and relish the moment of a wonderful conversation, a wonderful evening, a wonderful class–and wait with eager curiosity to see what might happen next. If your self is whole and not torn, it becomes impossible to do anything but let the moments flow through you, the joy flow through you. And Yom Kippur is meant to help you get there.
Rituals of purification are meant to lift us higher and higher into joy. Fasting is means for altering consciousness and helping us to access a state that’s difficult when we are full and grounded. Abstaining from leather lowers our defenses as we take down protective armor. And most importantly, naming all the ways our lives have been dysfunctional, all the ways we’ve strayed from who we should be, open a door wide for new possibilities.
It is the day both of last chances and of ultimate opportunities. “Who shall live and who shall die…?”, the liturgy asks. Today is the day we must live, and live better than we ever have. Today is the day we must seize our lives, take hold of them, to become wider and bigger and fuller than we’ve ever been. To radiate out, in all directions — to not hide, to know that this is our moment for joy, this is our moment for becoming as powerful as we already are. So take the joy now, with both hands, greedily, and through it allow yourself to be made new, in this present moment, and to shine on with your great, gorgeous light.
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
Yom Kippur: A Day of Sacred Intimacy
A Teaching from Gershon Winkler
“‘And Noah opened the window of the ark that he had built” – this is Yom Kippur, for the ark of Noah, she is the Great Mother, and the window of the ark is the Central Column through which the light of the Torah, the hidden light, is illuminated” (Tikuney Zohar, Tikun 39, folio 79b, or 22a). Since Yom Kippur is the Day of Great Mother, men and women do not engage in sexual intimacy on Yom Kippur, “for on that day the Bride receives from the Great Mother, and thus does the King not engage in lovemaking on that day” (pardes rimonim end of Ch 21 — shaar mahus v’hanhaga; also16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham [Sh’lah] in Mesechet Yoma, Perek Torah Ohr, No. 7). For then, the Zohar tells us, “the Light of Mother Above joins with the Light of Mother Below” (Zohar Vol 3, folio 102a)
The word Kippur. What exactly does it mean? Etymologically, it means to erase, to wipe away, to cleanse. It also means to cover over, to layer. As in Exodus 29:36 where translators have it as “and you shall purge the altar,” but how does one purge the altar? By layering it, covering it over with the animal and meal offerings.
The more correct translation, then, is “you shall cover the altar,” layer it with the offerings, cleanse the altar by layering it, as if making a bed, as in preparing the bed for lovemaking, for joining heaven and earth. Because, by our active involvement in preparing the bed, we restore passions lost, we stir up love gone sour.
How do we effect change in our lives? How do we correct ourselves,
improve ourselves? By layering our patterns, our old not-so-wonderful habits with newer and better ones. Personal transformation, the Torah is teaching us, is not achieved by beating our chests in remorse alone, or by brooding over past mistakes. Rather, it is achieved by moving forward, layering it over with fresh ways of being, new and improved ways of conducting ourselves, terracing rather than excavating. Like David put it some 3000 years ago: “Flee from what’s bad for you, from what no longer works, and pursue something that’s good for you, that works for you” (Psalms 34:15 and 37:27) – meaning, let go of the mistakes and layer them over with positive action instead of wasting a lot of time excessively uprooting and un-doing to the neglect of actually planting anew, of making some real-time changes.
The Torah describes the primary offering for Yom Kippur as simply “A Fire Offering onto God” (Leviticus 23:27). Fire represents ignition, igniting, initiating, beginning something totally new from out of seemingly nothing – taking a daring step into the unknown Next moment, like God in that moment within non-time
right before the onset of Genesis. It is a lonely moment. There is no one but yourself, hovering over the primal waters, hesitating over the power of possibility whose waves thrash beneath you waiting for you to draw possibility to realization. Fire is fueled from below (earth), and drawn from above (sky); it represents the kiss of heaven and earth, of spirit and matter, of your known self and your yet-unknown self that waits to become.
Noah opening the window of his ark was an act of hope, a daring
act of faith in possibility against the tragic reality of a collapsed world. The act of opening that window was an act of romancing Mother of the Above (ey’ma d’ee’la’ah). The “central column” through which the life force of the universe filters from the Realm of Spirit to the Realm of Matter, from Light to Manifestation, is represented in the ray of light that shone in through that window once Noah dared to open it, to move beyond resignation toward hope; to allow the Light of Genesis to restore a World of Nemesis. “For the ark of Noah, she is Mother of the Above” – she is what carries us across the chasm between what once was and what we would hope can be, lifting us high above the Great Flood of the abyss and carrying us patiently until we can muster enough strength and stamina and courage to open the window and allow the “hidden light”, the Light of Genesis, to shine through and foster Newness in our lives.
But if the ark represents Mother of the Above, and the window the central column of Divine Light, then it would be more accurate to picture the Divine Light not as coming into the ark through the window but – on the contrary – emerging from inside the ark, inside of Mother of the Above, and illuminating outward beyond the ark! And so indeed it is. What we do here in the Below Realm, in the realm of the Created, activates, empowers, or disempowers, the potency of the Divine Light that is willed from Above to Below, from Creator to Creation. At the window they meet, but only if we remove the covering and come out of hiding, out of resignation. It is then that the lovemaking happens between the worlds.
Yom Kippur is thus described by the Kabbalah as a very intimate encounter, because it is all about relationship, with God, with Self, with Other. Rosh Hashanah was the beginning of this intimacy, the initial approach, the longing to connect. Yom Kippur is the next phase, the loving embrace, as in “He places his left hand beneath my head” (Solomon’s Song of Songs 2:6). Sukkot is the phase of engaging, of intimate foreplay, as in “And with his right arm he embraces me” (Song of Songs 2:6). Sh’mee’nee Atzeret שמיני עצרת, the Eighth Day of Closure, is the actual union, the climactic phase of lovemaking (Zohar, Vol. 3, folio 257b).
The Yom Kippur rites described in the Torah were a symbolic re-enactment of these dynamics, of the kiss of heaven and earth, of the restoration of the primeval relationship of Creator with Creation, beginning with the seclusion of the High Priest (the solitude of God before engaging in Creation), continuing with
the offering of the Sacred Fire (God creating something from nothing by way of the primeval Light, or energy), moving into the covering of the altar with the life force of specific species of animals, each representing a particular quality of soul
manifestation moving us toward personal evolution, and preparing us for the Great Love-In. This is the underlying intent of Yom Kippur. It is the annual erotic union of Creator with Creation, the blending of the Light of the Spirit Realm with the Light of the Physical Realm, the kiss of the two universes, of the hidden universe and the unfolding universe, of the known world and the unknown world.
Lovemaking, writes the 16th-century Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, happens in stages. First there is the arousal, then the embrace, then the kiss, then the union. The kiss, in particular, he writes, is of utmost importance: “And the kiss needs to be mouth to mouth, breath to breath. And as the feminine breathes into the mouth of the masculine, she breathes into him the mystery-essence of the feminine which dwells exclusively in the universe of the feminine, and as the male breathes into the mouth of the female, he breathes into her the mystery-essence of the masculine which dwells exclusively in the universe of the masculine, and the kiss ought to happen with this quality of cleaving and binding one to the other” (in
Pardes Rimonim, Sha’ar Ma’hut V’Ha’han’hagah, end of Ch. 21).
While Rabbi Moshe Cordovero was describing the Sacred Lovemaking
between a mortal couple, he was also associating mortal intimacy
with the intimate union of Creator and Creation, and elsewhere
he impresses us with the age-old insistence of older Kabbalistic
teachings that arousal of Above requires arousal from Below (in
Pardes Rimonim, Sha’ar Ma’hut V’Ha’han’hagah, beginning of Ch. 20). The response, the joining, of Creator to and with Creation waits for Creation to initiate. Passion of Earth arouses response from Sky (Zohar, Vol. 1, folios 29b, 35a, and 46a-b).
So no wonder there was no Wrath of God stuff in response to our ancestors’ forgetting to observe Yom Kippur while celebrating the completion of the Temple” (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 17:2), the housing of the Holy of Holies, the very bedchamber, so to speak, of the union of Creator and Creation. (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 2:14).
And no wonder the ancients taught (Midrash B’reisheet Rabbah 3:8) that Yom Kippur was the time God created Light (passion), and Mountains (earth reaching toward sky), and Sky (sky reacting to earth’s arousal with its own arousal, responding with rain that then impregnates the earth [Genesis 2:6]), and Earth (earth births forth vegetation in response to sky).
And so no wonder the rites of Yom Kippur in ancient Israel included women dancing in the vineyards (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8). Wine evokes passion. Dancing
stirs passion. Earth is feminine. And so they stirred and whirled and rejoiced to arouse the lovemaking, the union, of Mother of the Above with Mother of the Below. The men, however, did not join with them. They observed. It was not the time for men to join with women. It was the time of the two Mothers to join with one another, Earth Mother and the Queen of Heaven. The masculine attribute of God, the King of Heaven, had to withdraw and hang with the guys outside the boundaries of the vineyard where the feminine danced herself into ecstasy. It was the men’s role to hold the space, to contain. It was actually a role-reversal: whereas women gift men with containment, tempering and directing their energies, on Yom Kippur the men took on this role while the women let go and danced uninhibitedly in the vineyards.
On Yom Kippur, our hearts begin to melt (gulp), because God’s hand moves to caress us “beneath our heads,” a gesture of supporting us with all that we carry; a gesture of understanding that we sometimes make wrong choices from amid all the stresses and challenges in our lives. Therefore, taught the second-century Rabbi Meir, “If you will make confession of your sins on the eve of Yom Kippur, do so with the approach of dusk, with the fading-out of the day” (Talmud Bav’li, Yo’ma 87b) — in other words, let it go, release it, don’t schlep it with you into Yom Kippur time itself; don’t spoil the romantic mood of the moment. When our lovers touch us, we melt, and we are moved to share our deepest secrets, so that we can then shift into the mutual embrace of trust, and intimacy of surrender.
At the advent of every New Year of the Hebrew calendar, my father — Rav Menashe Zvi — never fails to discover one Scriptural phrase or another whose numerical value, or Gemmatria, equals whatever the New Year happens to be within the 6th Millennium. For 775, my father found a phrase in Psalms: “May the Infinite-All bless his people…” (Psalms 29:11) — י-ה-ו-ה יברך את עמו which adds up to 775.
So may it be. And may the blessings bestowed on our people radiate out to all peoples, rippling forth the reminder of the Hebrew prophet Malachi: “Did not the same one God create all of us? Do we not all have but one and the same father? Why, then, is there so much discord between a man and his brother?” (Malachi 2:10).
From Kol Aleph
Reb Simcha Raphael
Kavanah for Yizkor
From Kol Aleph
Rabbi Shefa Gold
The Gate of Tears.
From Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
“The high and the low meet”
Friday, September 13th, 2013
What do Purim and Yom Kippur have in common?
What they have in common is being the extremes.
On the one hand, we have Yom Kippur, the time of absolute Transcendence, the most dense presence that rips through all Reality, the only day of the year when the High Priest utters the sacred name of God in the Holy of Holies.
On the other hand, we have Purim, a festival of natural events, with not even the slightest mention of holiness, without even the name of God being mentioned.
The high and the low meet.
There are only two extreme situations: one where we must take everything into account and the other, the time of forgiveness, which is above all accounts.
Absolute transcendence meets absolute immanence.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
“All that happens, the good and the evil, are aspects of His manifestation”
Thursday, September 12th, 2013
The truth is that we are always in a situation of confession, whether it is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) or the midnight prayer of “Kriyat Shema.”
And we ask Him to erase our sins, not by pain and suffering but—if He does not mind—by forgiveness and mercy.
It does not always work out.
We are not always given what we ask for, at least in the manner or at the time we want it.
But actually, all that happens, the good and the evil, are aspects of His manifestation.
Except that our recognition is limited to those moments when we know that it is so.
At such times the situation is altogether different.
One can relate differently, not that there is less pain and suffering.
It is merely that there is not that feeling of the concealment of His countenance.
So long as He is not altogether absent, we can accept all that happens to us.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Sustaining Utterance by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Posted in Let My People Know | Comments Off
“An emptying of self”
Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
There is a rather special abrogation of self operating on the day of Yom Kippur.
Nothing whatsoever is done, one is altogether passive in so far as the world of action is concerned.
It is a state of inner subservience, expressed only partly by a certain bending and bowing of the body.
The day is characterized by an emptying of self to become an instrument, a vessel for spiritual force to move into and through until it fills one’s entire being.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
WE ARE JONAH
In Rabbi Eliezer’s vision
Jonah entered the whale’s mouth
as we enter a synagogue.
Light streamed in through its eyes.
Jonah approached the bimah, the whale’s head.
Show me wonders, he said, as though
his own life weren’t a miracle.
The whale obliged, swimming down
to the foundation stone,
the navel of creation
fixed deep beneath the land.
Tsk tsk, chided the fish:
you’re beneath God’s temple —
you should pray.
Prayer requires stillness.
Running away had always been
so easy. Sitting silent
in self-judgement — forget it!
But waves only churn the surface.
In the deep beneath the deep
Jonah was wholly present.
We all flee
from uncomfortable conversations
the drip of a hospital IV
the truths we don’t want to own
the work we don’t want to do.
Now we’re in the belly of the whale,
someplace deep and strange.
God calls us to awareness:
to stand our ground
in the place where we are,
to do the work which needs doing.
To bring kindness and mercy
even to those who are unlike us.
Are we listening?
Jonah – Animal Drash
We’ve been praying all day as each of us finds our own way to Teshuvah. Now we have a story- that of Jonah. For some of us, a story can reach other places inside ourselves to help us get the message.
This year, I am most attracted to the animal imagery in Jonah. As a passionate animal lover, the lessons of the animals open my heart to a new way into the story. The animals are the dove, the big fish, the worm, and the cattle.
1) The first is Jonah’s name- Dove. The dove is in the same family as the carrier pigeon, so Jonah’s path in the world was to carry messages. Jonah was reluctant to fulfill his life path as we sometimes are. Doves appear to us mostly at the times of dawn and dusk, the times of the day where the veils between the worlds are said to be thinest. So it is the time to carry a message from the deepest places. We even have atmosphere when we read this story on Yom Kippur, since it is told at the time of day where we are approaching dusk.
2) The big fish. The fish tells us that there are times we are held by the darkness of the unknown, a time for gestation before renewal. There is a lovely midrash about the fish which says that the fish had eyes like windows, and a hanging pearl of light so that Jonah could see his surroundings during his three day voyage inside. Sometimes we need a time out from the busyness of the world for self reflection and insight. We do this on Yom Kippur.
3) The worm. The worm that eats the gourd can represent a kind of self composting. During Teshuvah, we process the old and sometimes rotting parts of ourselves to recycle into new fertility.
4) The cattle. It is interesting to me that the last sentence in Jonah speaks about compassion for the cattle as well as humans. This can translate as compassion for all beings. One year Aryae and I spent a shabbat at Farm Sanctary in Orland near Chico. Farm Sanctuary is an organization that rescues farm animals and provides a sanctuary for them. Farm Sancutary describes cattle as the farm’s “ deeply social and most comtemplative residents”. So Aryae and I stayed that Friday night in a cottage on the premises. We felt such peacefulness there, at a place where the animals are treated with such compassion. May the practice of compassion for all beings bring us much peace in the coming year.
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
YOM KIPPUR FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A Teaching from Gershon…
There are two words in Hebrew for “Cleared.” One is פָּנוּיpa’nui, the other is טְהַרte’har. פָּנוּיimplies an emptiness ready and yearning to become filled, from the word פָּנָהpa’nah, which means “facing in the direction of…” and from the word פְּנִיםp’neem, which means “that which is inside.” Invitation to Other, in other words, is the act of facing Other with the revelation of one’s deepest Self. No wonder, then, that with a slight shift of a vowel-point, the word reads פָּנִיםpa’neem, which translates as “face” – but more literally: “faces” in the plural, since no one really has only a single face. Our faces reveal aspects of our deepest Self, who we are and who we yet yearn to become, what we yet long to be filled by within the ever-emptying Abysses that churn and turn deep within us. This is why our ancestor Jacob blessed us not only with the gifts of the Heavens Above, but also with the gifts “of the Abyss stirring beneath” (Genesis 49:25).
The second Hebrew word for “Cleared” – טְהַר te’har – is usually translated as “Purified” but at its root it too implies “Cleared” as in “Cleared Space,” or טְהִירוּte’heeru, which is how the Kabbalah describes the great emptiness which God first hollowed-out of Nothing and within which Creation began (Zohar, Vol. 1, folio 15a and Hash’mato’t HaZohar, Vol. 1, folio 251a). This is what Yom Kippur is about: a ceremony of Clearing, of hollowing-out a space within our deepest depths that is cleared of all impediments to our forward flow in the continuum of Creation, in the fruition of our Genesis. This is a much “clearer” translation of this ancient word than “Purified.” Purified implies that we were contaminated. Cleared implies that we were overwhelmed, overfilled, over-circuited, which is the root meaning of the very word usually translated as “Impure” or “Contaminated” – טָמֵא ta’may. טָמֵא is rooted in the word טוּםtoom, which means “Filled.” Another such badly translated word is גִלוּלgee’lul, often rendered as either “Idolatry” or “Contamination,” while it is rooted in the word גָלַלga’lal, which means “Disregard” or “Oblivion.”
Now let’s read the famous passage from the Talmud, with these root translations applied:
אָמַר רַבִּי עַקִיבָא: “אַשְרֵיכֶם יִשְּׂרָאֵל! לִפְנֵי מִי אַתֶּם מְטַהַרִין וּמִי מְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם?
אַבִיכֶם שֶבַּשָמַיִם, שֶנֶאֶמַר ‘וְזָרַקְתִּי עַלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם. מִכָּל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶם
וּמִכָּל גִלוּלֵיכֶם אַטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם (יחזקאל לו:כה).’ וְאוֹמֶר ‘מִקְוֵה יִשְּׂרָאֵל יה (ירמיהו יז:יג)’ מַה מִקְוֵה
מְטַהֵר אֶת הַטְמֵאִים, אַף הַקָדוֹש בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְטַהֵר אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל ( תלמוד בבלי, יומא פא:).
Said Rabbi Akiva: “How fortunate are you, O Israel! Before whom do you become cleared, and who is it that clears you? Your Father Who is in Heaven! As it is written, ‘And I shall cast upon you waters of clearing, and you will be cleared. I shall clear you of all of your overwhelmingness and of all of your oblivion'” (Ezekiel 36:25). And it is said, ‘God is Israel’s mikveh’ (Jeremiah 17:13). Just like the mikveh clears the overwhelmed, so does the Holy Blessed Source clear Israel'” (Talmud Bav’li, Yoma 85b).
Yom Kippur is one day in the year when we are reminded of what we ought to be doing every day of the year: clearing out the gunk that builds up within us so that we can inhale fresh life breath and refill our deepest core selves with the ever-renewing energies of Genesis. This is why we fast on this day. We are, again, clearing-out our body selves as we ritually clear-out our spirit selves. In the Torah, the act of fasting on Yom Kippur is described as “You shall afflict your souls” (Leviticus 16:29) when the very same word for “you shall afflict” — תְּעַנוּ — can just as easily translate as “you shall respond,” as in “You shall respond to your souls.” Clearly, we need to clear-out centuries of negative connotations of Hebraic words in the Torah text whose alternatively correct translations bespeak a more positive and healing voice than the voice we have been reared with. It is long overdue that we re-translate our Torah to reflect the root translations of words that have been taken so far out of context that it has rendered so much of this sacred and enriching ancient body of wisdom cold and intimidating.
Yom Kippur asks us not only to clear a new space within us and in our fields for a new yearly cycle of fresh plantings. It also asks us to plant new saplings over the old growth, to cover-up what was with what is yet waiting to become. Our past mistakes, our past overwhelmingness, our past oblivion, will never go away. They can never be undone. But what we can do is cover them up with fresh soil for new growth, so that we transform what was not so good toward fertilizing that which can be better.
This is the meaning of the word כִּפּוּרkippur. Ordinarily, we have been translating it as “Atonement.” At its root, however, it means “To Cover,” or “To Overlay,” from the word כַּפְרָאkaf’ra or כַּפֹּרֶתka’po’ret — which is exactly how the Kabbalah speaks of the vegetative covering we are to use for the roof of our Sukah. We are to use not freshly-purchased bamboo shoots or freshly-cut pine branches, but rather the refuse of our harvest, what of our harvest we do not wish to store for the future. Instead of throwing it away, we are to use the refuse, the rejects of our past deeds, of our past harvest, as the very sacred roof covering of our very sacred Sukah – to transform our past negativity into present and future positivity.
The disconnected branches and foliage with which we cover the roofs of our sukot, in other words, represent the spoils of our harvest (Menorat HaMa’or, Vol. 3, Part 4, Ch. 1) and thus also our errors which we have let go of during Yom Kippur, disconnected from their roots – from us – and now transformed into sacred implements intended to shelter us from judgment, intended to represent the compassionate sheltering of Great Mother (Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 186b and Vol. 3, folio 100b). Having called to the forefront our past wrongdoings through the introspective rituals of Yom Kippur, we would be inclined to follow this high holyday with judgment, as in self-judgment, instead of actually letting go of our past sins and moving on. We were therefore given the post-high-holyday ritual of Sukot, where our past wrongs become the very shade from the fires of judgment, and become symbolic of Divine Compassion overriding Divine Judgment. And as our ancestor Jacob built sukot to shelter his animals (Genesis 33:17), we too do so to embrace our impulsive animal qualities with compassion and remove our judgment of those qualities within ourselves even though we can easily attribute to them most of our past wrong-doings (Sefer HaShl’lah, Mesechet Sukah, Ner Mitzvah, Chapter 46).
כִּפּוּרKippur also means “To Erase,” to clean the slate, so to speak, from the word כָּפַרka’far. This Yom Kippur, let us begin the process of not feeling intimidated by the Days of Awe, and instead enter this sacred period with an air of celebration of the Days of Awesomeness. After all, the ancient rabbis taught us that we ought to enter Yom Kippur with first having had a festive, celebratory feast just before Yom Kippur begins, and to do so in honor of celebrating Yom Kippur:
It is the way of all of Israel to rejoice on the eve of Yom Kippur, for every mitzvah requires the accompaniment of joy. Thus did the ancient rabbis declare that one who rejoices with eating and drinking on the eve of Yom Kippur it is considered as if he fasted all of both the ninth and tenth day of the month (Talmud Bav’li, Yoma 81b). Because without rejoicing on the ninth, the festival is without joy since we are fasting on that day, whereas by eating and drinking festively on the eve of Yom Kippur, we imbue all of Yom Kippur with the requisite of joy necessary for sacred ritual (16th-century Rabbi Moshe Cordovero In Avodat Yom Hakippurim).
And let’s not forget the teaching of the first-century Rabbi Shim’on ben Gamli’el: “No days were as festive in Israel as were the fifteenth of Ahv, and Yom Kippur” (Mishnah, Ta’anit 4:8).
Why all this joy talk about Yom Kippur? Because Yom Kippur is a reminder of God’s intimate gesture to us, as is written: “He places his left hand beneath my head” (Solomon’s Song of Songs 2:6). And almost immediately following Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, the phase of engaging, of intimate foreplay, as in: “And with his right arm he embraces me” (Song of Songs 2:6). And Sh’mee’nee Atzeret שמיני עצרת, the Eighth Day of Closure of all the festivals of this month, is the actual union, the climactic phase of lovemaking between Creator and Creation (Zohar, Vol. 3, folio 257b).
Therefore did the sages remind us that if we get all teary-eyed and penitent on Yom Kippur or other times because we are afraid of God’s wrath, our penance is pitiful and moot, and we are then more in need of God’s healing than God’s forgiveness. Rather, the quality of any decision to change our ways for the better depends on whether we do so out of love, not fear. And when we do so out of love, we ourselves bring healing, to ourselves and to others, even to the world! (Talmud Bav’li, Yo’ma 86a; Sif’rey MaHaRaL, Netivot Olam, Vol. 2: Netiv Ha’Teshuvah, Chapter 2, folio 152).
Now go clear the way (Isaiah 57:14) and let Yom Kippur happen like it ought to.
From Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man
Day of Awe
Posted on September 22, 2012
God, first and last, towering over all,
may we sculpt your silence with a new song?
Lord, hovering low over the ocean swell,
may we ripple your stillness with whispered entreaties?
Spirit, buried deep under fields of forgotten dreams,
may we rekindle your joy with praying lips?
Afternoon: The Breaking of the Vessels
The smoldering mountain moves, it roars, it shudders,
shaking off unwanted pious courtesies.
A hard northwesterly chops the wintry seas,
and a shark scents its prey, the drowning man.
Forked lightning strikes a once-sacred oak,
its bole is split, its branches burnt and scattered.
A new year has dawned, you have pardoned all sins,
Now gather us H’, take us under your wings.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Yom Kippur: Resting from Physicality
From Reb Zalman
Yom Kippur Blessings
[NOTE: This piece is based on a Hebrew text of Reb Zalman’s which you can read here.]
For through the agency of this day, I will atone for you – – before YHVH you will be purified from all your sins.
This is the sentence that invites us to the work of Yom Kippur.
For through the agency of this day: There are teachings in the Kabbalah that point to God investing Him/Herself into the time of the 26 hours of Yom Kippur to effect the atonement for us. How 26 hours? Because we add an hour before and an hour after. Why 26? It is the numerical value of the divine name, YHVH. It is love begetting a response of love, 13 + 13 = 26, (13 is the numerical value of love, Ahavah).
before YHVH: I.e., Keter. In Leviticus, the Bible tells us that we had to take two goats of equally high quality and cast lots to decide which of them was to be offered to God and which was to be sent to Azazel. It is a puzzling passage because, while most everything that was to be put as a sacrifice to God was very precisely prescribed, in this situation, it was undetermined; by bringing in the casting of lots, the decision was left to the very last moment. Why this uncertainty? It seems that we wanted to reach into a place beyond any polarity of good and evil, that our esoteric visionaries realized that in order to radically transform a difficult situation it was necessary to reach so high into the infinite that the transformation would be brought about. In the Kabbalah, such a rung is called Keter, the Crown. The accumulation of the sins of an entire year would create a heavy burden for us were it not for our pleading with God to draw down for us an at-one-ment from a source that transcends all polarities so it could act as a source of grace. Such a source is implied by the phrase before YHVH, i.e. a source before/beyond YHVH. Your transgressions will be atoned for you from this source.
In this regard, some commentators have pointed to the word used in the Bible for Yom Kippur – – Yom Ki-Purim, to suggest it is a day like Purim, the festival so named because Haman cast lots, and the word Pur means a lot. We are urged on Purim to become so inebriated that we transcend the distinction between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman” which is Keter, the place beyond any polarity of good and evil. Also, just as during the holiday of Purim we follow the dictates of, “anyone who extends a hand shall receive,” (that is to say, on Purim, it depends on need, not merit – God wants us to receive no questions asked), so too on Yom Kippur we can present our needs to God with our extending of a hand to be forgiven of our transgressions. And on Yom Kippur, “You extend a hand to the rebellious ones,” meaning that we receive forgiveness from God’s extended hand. Our act of extending a hand to receive brings about the forgiveness.
How do we extend the hand? It happens through acts of reconciliation with the others in our lives, through gaining their forgiveness and through our forgiving them.
On the high holy days, we are given amazing tools for improving the quality of the ethical life. When we make use of them, they prepare us to receive precisely those blessings we need for the coming year. For this, we have to be engaged in the task of quality-improvement which calls for three steps of Tshuvah: 1) Selichah, 2) Mechilah and 3) Kapparah.
Selichah, which is the first step, happens when we begin interacting with the ones we offended and when we express regret for trespasses to them. One says, “Please excuse me. I’m sorry for having offended you.” For many of us, this step began at the beginning of Ellul and became more intensive in the week before Rosh Hashanah during the Selichot services. Even the sending of New Year’s greetings somehow preserves a remnant of the earlier custom of the sending of letters to people that ask them for forgiveness for the times in which we had offended them in some way.
Mechilah: Mechilah is the work of restitution and repair. While the first step of Tshuvah began with the start of the month of Ellul, the second step, Mechilah, is the process of Rosh Hashanah. At this time, we take upon ourselves the responsibilities of being citizens of the divine realm. God is King and we are subjects of the divine ruler. There is another meaning for Mechilah related to the word Machol – dance. In a dance people sometimes reverse positions and this is an image for us to hold in our work, i.e., to see the world from God’s perspective. On Rosh Hashanah, through our acceptance of the kingdom of God we become capable of achieving Tshuvah out of awe/Yir’ah, turning intentional sins into unintentional sins. How so? It is by accepting the yoke of the kingdom of God again. By accepting the yoke of the commandments we demonstrate an intention to not have committed the sinful acts.
Kapparah: But Yom Kippur deals with the work of Kapparah – atonement. The word atonement has been spelled as At-One-Ment, the making of a yichud between us and our God. There are other words of the same root as Kapparah that deal with wiping something clean. It has also something to do with redemption – as in Kofer Yushas – paying a ransom, and also denial — kofer b’ikkar. It is as if, at the end of the process, God denies that we had ever sinned. This is so because Yom Kippur brings us back to the essential love that God has for us and our Tshuvah becomes a Tshuvah out of love which turns the now unintentional sins into Mitzvot.
This is also one of the reasons why the confession is recited with a joyful tune.
While the Tshuvah of the month of Ellul deals largely with regret and the Tshuvah of Rosh Hashanah deals with assenting to be a subject of God’s kingdom, the Tshuvah of Yom Kippur is Tshuvah done out of love which has the power to turn sins into merits.
May we be inscribed, signed and sealed for good life for the coming year: Amen.
Rabbi Tzvi Miller
THE DELIGHT OF YOM KIPPUR
The Prophet Isaiah (58:5) admonished Klal Yisrael for being downhearted on Yom Kippur-Is such gloom the fast that I have chosen? Is the purpose of] the day for man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under his feet?
What is the criticism of Isaiah? Yom Kippur is a time of judgment, fasting, and repentance. Isn’t the focus of the day to reflect on one’s misdeeds and shortcomings-and to feel a sense of despair?
In the next passage (58:6) Isaiah explains what should take place on Yom Kippur-Isn’t the purpose of this fast that I have chosen to loosen fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
Yom Kippur is a time of liberation. It provides us with the opportunity to extricate ourselves from negativity and selfishness. If we open our hearts to the power of Yom Kippur and fill our souls with goodness and kindness-Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your healing shall quickly spring forth (58:8).
The Torah deliberately writes (Vayikra 23:32) that Yom Kippur takes place on the ninth of Tishrei,even though the actual date of observance is the tenth of Tishrei. By associating the previous day, i.e. the ninth, to Yom Kippur, the Torah is telling us that anyone who partakes of a festive meal on the ninth is considered as if he fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.
In the same spirit of the Prophet, this verse teaches that Yom Kippur is a time of joy and celebration-for there is no greater happiness than forgiveness and redemption.
The purpose of avodas Hashem and repentanceis true joy and delight. Although certain aspects of our observance evoke remorse-this is the means and not the end. Through proper appreciation and fulfillment of the Yom Kippur procedure-our spirits are cleansed, our souls elevated, and our hearts filled with delight.
[Based on Ohr HaZafon of Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel]
“The Power of Doubt and Teshuvah”
By Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Ph.D
Quite often, congregants and students have complained to me that the Yom Kippur service feels a bit foreign to their modern sensibilities, and that they do not feel connected to some of the themes and claims in the liturgy. The theme of guilt, asking for forgiveness, and finding forgiveness through prayer and good deeds feels alien to them. Firstly, they do not experience G-d as that punitive, nor do they feel that they should do good deeds merely to find expiation. They do not believe that a loving G-d would punish them so severely if they ‘miss the mark’ and do not fulfill their duties. They naturally feel a sense of guilt when they harm another human being, and feel a sense of shame when they do not measure up to the high standards that their potential suggests that they should achieve. But the fear element of ‘who shall live and who shall die’ as a result of behaving inappropriately does not fit the image of G-d that they believe in.
What happens when one faces a disconnect between one’s inner held perception of G-d and the words of the liturgy, or alternatively a piercing discord between some literal readings of passages in our Scripture and inner soulful feelings within that do not mesh with these verses? Quite often these realities can create a sense of doubt within the self, doubt in the tradition, and thus instead of coming closer to tradition during the High Holy Days many of our young people feel distanced.
Another factor that creates doubt in our communities is the terrible tragedies and darkness that we perceive in the world today. In addition to tragedies and plagues all over the globe, (starvation in Africa, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, terrorist bombings, etc.), as Jews, we feel particularly upset and chagrined that, after all these years, neither Right wing nor Left wing politicians can create a warm peace in Israel and the Middle East. It makes us question G-d’s loving Providence, and we attempt to rationalize by positing the view that G-d allows for free will, so that it is we human beings that must solve the problem and that ultimately G-d’s ways are mysterious, and this Earth is given to us to care for. As Scripture states: Hanistarot L’Hashem Elokainu, V’Haniglot Lanu U’l’vonainu. (Devarim 29:28). The Kabbalists suggest that this darkness is a remnant of the activities of Amalek, which according to Hebrew numerology (gematria) equals the Hebrew word for ‘DOUBT’ (Safek). Both Amalek and Safek = 240. When Evil (Amalek) is allowed to run rampant in the world it dims G-d’s light and wounds the faithful energy, making it inaccessible to our rational perceptions and introduces the impulse of doubt in our souls. When Amalek (Evil) triumphs in the world, we question the Presence of G-d, and are left with doubt.
However, our Sages teach us that within the energy of the Tzaddik, and indeed the potential that resides within each of us, resides the ability to experience and extract the light from within the darkness. (Within the Galut (exile), is the Gilui (revelation), and the Geulah (redemption)). It is indeed, the suffering of the darkness that motivates us to awaken to what we authentically do believe in, to shake off the mendacity that has dimmed our souls, and to gird our loins to go out and start acting on this Teshuva energy that is so palpable during this season. We are able to acknowledge and let go of our blind belief in dogma, face our doubts with courage, and truly reawaken our connection to Hashem. Hashem creates an opening for us during this season (Ani L’dodi V’dodi Lee- I wait for my beloved to return) when we make this honest effort. G-d wants our honest open heart, welcomes our desire to reconnect, and returns the warm energetic Light that surrounds us with certainty once more. The miracle of Teshuva is that it comes out of the blue and impacts us when our egos weaken, when we are in a state of doubt, but yearn for the light and clarity, and a return to Hashem. It is G-d’s Grace that appears when G-d senses our isolation and yearning, and G-d bestows an opening for our ‘return’. We are then filled with gratitude. We reconnect to the beautiful words of our liturgy, ‘The earth is filled with Your abundance,’ and feel G-d’s light throughout nature and the gentle, beautiful human souls that we encounter.
Our Sages teach that Teshuva was created BEFORE the creation, and the Paytan (Poet) in Selichot (penitential prayers) says, ‘Peles Koach Hateshuvah, K’neged kol Hakochot’ – “The power of Teshuva outweighs all the other powers.” So when we begin to authentically search for the G-d that speaks to us (and we say, ‘Zeh Keli V’anveihu’, ‘This is my G-d and I will glorify Him.’ and we make it ‘My G-d’), when we return out of our existential angst and doubts, our energies become very powerful in our search and we break through all the shrouds that Amalek has rendered and feel the sweetness of our Creator once more.
‘Uri,Uri Yeshainim’! Let us awaken this year, awaken from our slumber, reach out and fight through our doubts to what our souls know, that the light exists within and without. When this is achieved, there will settle upon us a great inflow of the Divine Spirit, and the holy soul that always abides within us will be awakened once more. This awakened light of the soul may then unite with all the life forces that abide in the universe and become a vital center of life finding splendor and spreading Grace in every aspect of creation. It is in the heartfelt prayer to G-d, and the intense honest search, expressed ultimately in new behaviors that bring forth this transformation, and the experience of G-d’s Presence. As Rav Kook says, ‘Once there is a reaching for Teshuva, there is the reality of Teshuva’. The smallest movement of the heart or mind arouses G-d’s compassion, and the person becomes a new being through G-d’s help, opening a channel of delight and joy for the soul and the body.
So though we may begin with doubt, we may also be blessed to discover that the positive potential that resides within doubt can become a motivator to attain clarity, helping one to define what one truly believes in and aiding one’s commitment to follow this belief in the coming year through dedicated action. It is not enough to end with our doubts, and do nothing about them. It is often through darkness and alienation that the greatest growth appears, that the desire to find the light grows and one finds a breakthrough filled with authenticity and vigor.
This process (of ‘fall and return’) can be seen as well as symbolically expressed in the four blasts of the Shofar: Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah. The first whole unbroken blast (Tekiah) signifies the state of wholeness and connectedness to the light within and without; then there is the interrupted broken sound of the Shevarim, when we fall and feel some alienation from the Light and then doubt creeps in; then there is the deepening of this alienation, a fragmentation that emerges in the shattering Teruah sound; but then from this place of darkness the yearning for return emerges, the energy develops for an introspective search that probes the honest authentic values that we hold dearly, and from there we connect to Hashem with deep yearning and meet our beloved once more in the process, and then the sound of the Tekiah is blown once more.
May we all reach a complete Teshuva this year; acknowledging our doubts within the process and through our honest acknowledgment give birth to our deep emergent desire to find our Creator by connecting to the soul within, and opening up a space for Hashem who yearns for our return.
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
A Day of Intimacy?
A Teaching from Gershon
The deeper we delve into the meaning of Yom Kippur, the more it becomes about love and intimacy, not guilt and repentance. It is a sacred day of connecting to the root of roots, to the essence of our soul self, as is asked of us in the Torah’s instruction regarding Yom Kippur: “And you should respond to your souls ועניתם את נפשתיכם” (Leviticus 16:31) — often translated as “And you shall afflict your souls.” Which of the two renditions we choose is up to us, they are both grammatically and etymologically correct, which leaves us simply with the question: What kind of Yom Kippur do we want? Or better yet, what kind of relationship do we want with God, with Self, with Other? Affliction, or Response? Guilt, or Intimacy? Love, or Fear?
More than 3,300 years ago, Moses channeled the famous “Thirteen Attributes of Divine Compassion” – or Shalosh Es’ray Mee’dot שלש עשרה מדות — while traversing the great Mountain of Elo’heem in the desert of Sinai (Exodus 34:6-7). And they are, as follows:
יה yo hay Infinite Love and Mercy Transcendent;
וה wah hay Infinite Love and Mercy Immanent;
אל רחוםel ra’chum God of Womb-Deep Compassion
וחנון v’chah’noon and Tender Grace;
ארך eh’rech of Lengthy Patience,
אפים ah’pah’yeem of Forbearance
ורב חסד v’rahv chessed and Great Love
ואמת v’eh’meht and Truth,
נוצר חסד לאלפים no’tzer chessed la’ala’feem forging Lovingkindness in Abundance, נושא עון no’sey ah’vo’n lifting Us Out of Our Guilt
ופשע va’feh’sha and out of Our Errors in Our Actions
וחטאה v’chah’ta’ah and out of Our Wrongness in Our Choices
ונקה v’nah’key and Cleansing Us Completely
When we chant these 13 Divine qualities on Yom Kippur we need to know that they are not a list of ways in which God is nice and forgiving. They are rather a very finite glimpse into the unfathomable depths of Divine Mercy.
13 represents beyond the norm, beyond comprehension, beyond capacity of reckoning. It is the dashing and trashing of any attempts at absoluteness.
For example, there were 12 sons born to Jacob and Leah, and Rachel, and Bilhah, and Zilpah — thus 12 tribes. These correspond in turn with the four pathways of birthing the three manifestations of soul in body [4×3 = 12]. The four pathways — known as פרדסPaRDeS — are:פשט P’shat literal, Remez רמזcryptic, D’rash דרשexplorative, and So’d סודsecretive. The three manifestations of soul in body are:נפשnefesh [physical], רוחru’ach [emotive], andנשמהne’shamah [cognitive].
But there is also דנהDee’nah, the thirteenth child of Jacob, the one daughter, the mystery that comes and challenges the absolute. She is not even included in Joseph’s dream of the family bowing to him. She remains elusive, a mysterious shadow behind the veil of illusion, reminding us now and then that things are not always the way they are cracked up to be.
For instance, there are 12 months corresponding to the 12 tribes. But there is a thirteenth “extra” month that comes along every few years and challenges the absoluteness of our attempt to reckon even something as predictable as Time itself. Applying the number 13 to the Attributes of Divine Compassion is thus another way of saying there are no absolute numbers one can attach to them, because, again, they are unfathomable.
Therefore did the sages remind us that if we get all teary-eyed and penitent on Yom Kippur or other times because we are afraid of God’s wrath, our penance is pitiful and moot, and we are then more in need of God’s healing than God’s forgiveness. Rather, the quality of any decision to change our ways for the better depends on whether we do so out of love, not fear. And when we do so out of love, we ourselves bring healing, to ourselves and to others, even to the world! (Talmud Bav’li, Yo’ma 86a; Sif’rey MaHaRaL, Netivot Olam, Vol. 2: Netiv Ha’Teshuvah, Chapter 2, folio 152).
Yom Kippur is described by the Kabbalah as a very intimate encounter, because it is all about relationship, with God, with Self, with Other. Rosh Hashanah was the beginning of this intimacy, the initial approach, the longing to connect. Yom Kippur is the next phase, the loving embrace, as in “He places his left hand beneath my head” (Solomon’s Song of Songs 2:6). Sukkot is the phase of engaging, of intimate foreplay, as in “And with his right arm he embraces me” (Song of Songs 2:6). Sh’mee’nee Atzeret שמיני עצרת, the Eighth Day of Closure, is the actual union, the climactic phase of lovemaking (Zohar, Vol. 3, folio 257b).
On Yom Kippur, our hearts begin to melt (gulp), because God’s hand moves to caress us “beneath our heads”, a gesture of supporting us with all that we carry; a gesture of understanding that we sometimes make wrong choices from amid all the stresses and challenges in our lives. Therefore, taught the second-century Rabbi Meir, “If you will make confession of your sins on the eve of Yom Kippur, do so with the approach of dusk, with the fading-out of the day” (Talmud Bav’li, Yo’ma 87b) – in other words, let it go, release it, don’t schlep it with you into Yom Kippur time itself; don’t spoil the romantic mood of the moment. When our lovers touch us, we melt, and we are moved to share our deepest secrets, so that we can then shift into the mutual embrace of trust, and intimacy of surrender.
May we always remember that 13 is our lucky number, filled with blessings and blissings for the new year 5772, and for all the days of our lives.
From Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man
A Journey from Rosh Ha-Shanah to Yom Kippur (and back)
We enter Rosh HaShanah with a powerful awareness that H’ is Other; the liturgy insistently employs the image of King, a majestic, all-powerful being that governs our destinies, weighs us in the balance, is unpredictable in judgments, and is barely approachable. The gulf is almost unbridgeable.
Ten days later, the Yom Kippur services conclude with the exultant cry, repeated seven times, “H’ is All,*” in which we proclaim the Unity of all Being. God and the world, Creator and Creation, are One. The veils are gone.
יהוה הוא האלוהים
These are not two opposing theological propositions — monotheistic vs pantheistic, as it were — but beginning and end points of an inner journey that we undertake during these “days of awe.” The intermediate steps — the outpouring of soul, repentance, prayer and righteous action, the fellowship, the feasting and the fasting — are all stations on a trajectory of spiritual ascent.
The climactic vision attained at Neilah is brilliant, but fleeting, and when it fades we set out upon the next limb of the journey, the descent. Reluctantly, perhaps, we relinquish the sense of unity and prepare to embrace the sacred in multiplicity. Though less dramatic than the preceding phase, this “path of return” is no less important. Ascent and descent are two parts of a single whole, as inseparable as breathing in and breathing out.
[* Kabbalistic interpretative translation.]
From Reb Zalman
Recalibration on Yom Kippur
Historically, Yom Kippur is the day when we actually received the Torah, though many of us would think of Shavuot as the time. [NOTE: cf, Rashi on Exodus 33:11.]
Forty days after the Shavuot of that first year of leaving Egypt, the first time Moshe brought down the tablets, we had already worshipped the golden calf. So we did not receive the Torah then. Because of our having worshipped the calf, Moshe had to intercede for forty days so we might be forgiven and then, another forty: From the first day of Ellul to Yom Kippur, when he brought down the tablets with the words, I have forgiven salachti Kid’varecha.
So the Torah that we actually receive came with a willingness on the part of the divine attribute of justice to be lenient and to forgive.
This understanding is pivotal in our attitude to Torah and her Commandments. [NOTE: I.e., although we have made mistakes, God will not abandon us.]
When many people think of Torah and mitzvot in terms of an unforgiving strictness here we are saying in our view of history that the Torah comes with forgiveness.
We’re dealing with two obstacles [to connection]. We think that:
We will never be forgiven, [NOTE: Why try to be good because we will fail] or,
we don’t need to do anything in order to be forgiven; Yom Kippur will do it all for us.
In both cases, the fact that we need to do teshuvah in order for forgiveness to work is overlooked. So when we go this year to celebrate Yom Kippur we have to see in it:
The celebration of reconciliation with God.
And that reconciliation is the product of our recalibrating the course of our life to be in greater harmony with the purpose for which we were created as well as the divine willingness to receive our Tshuvah.
On the Eve of Yom Kippur we’ll be reciting the Kol Nidre. Behind the rabbinic formula that intends to abrogate the vows we are bound to make in the coming year declaring them to be null and void, there is a deeper significance:
Think of your bad habits as the vows being abrogated
Habits are like vows we have made and live by day-by-day. Part of Tshuvah is the work of scrutinizing our habit patterns. Another part of Tshuvah is to examine the texture of our relationships with other people and ourselves. The sacred moment of Kol Nidre is our opportunity to delete habitual programs, those patterns and behaviors which we would do well to unleash.
As in the Rosh Hashanah message where I raised the issue that the work is especially difficult if you try to do it solo, the same is the case with regard to the Yom Kippur work. For this reason, it is very useful to reach out to those special friends with whom we can discuss and examine our habits, patterns and relationships so we can become clear about which of our habits serve us in fulfilling our deployment tasks, (i.e., those tasks for which we were created), and which others do not. Concerning the issue of relationships, the high holy days and the process of Tshuvah afford us with the opportunity to recalibrate them too in a way that will make for greater harmony and holiness in our lives.
The fasting is our opportunity to listen more deeply to the voice of our body again. The pangs of hunger and thirst give us a chance to hear what the body is actually saying to us without our interrupting to fulfill its cries. It is a chance to pay the body some real attention. It also prepares us for the lessons that come in the teachings of the prophet Isaiah (58:7) which we read in the Haftarah. By being hungry ourselves we can more deeply hear the words: “share your bread with the hungry and the down and out poor bring into your home.”
The teachings of Hasidism teach us that each year on Yom Kippur a new “name” emanated by God. The envelope of divine Providence is that name. Each year a new one is issued to contain and sustain the universe.
Whenever we live in harmony with that name, the Hebrew words are Kiddush Hashem, we sanctify, honor and add energy to the good sustenance of the universe.
Whenever we act in a position to damage the name it is called in Hebrew Chillul Hashem, the desecration of the name. (Literally this means to pierce and damage the name so that the divine energy is diverted to energize the forces of evil.)
Toward the end of the day of Yom Kippur we come to the prayer of Ne’ilah, the closing prayer. Imagine you have been working on a program on your computer. In order that the program might not be lost you have to save it and push the “enter” button. So while the service is going on a good thing would be to review the work done from Ellul to Ne’ilah. If you can, sit with a friend and share what it is that has been your sacred work during the Days of Awe. In this way you can remind each other during the following holy day times of Sukot and celebrate and enjoy. And then, dancing on Simchat Torah, remember what you have undertaken to do for Tikkun Olam and then put it to action throughout the year.
From Reb Mimi Feigelson
Entering into Yom Kippur, 5771by Mimi Feigelson on Thursday, September 16, 2010
“Our models freeze-dry the flow of experinces into a “manageable” reality.They are our idea of the truth, not the truth itself. The truth is what is. It is this moment, without the least trace of the last or any expectations of the next. Our models are a prison. They are the limit to which we can accept the molten flow of change. They act as filters that accept what we believe and reject what seems otherwise. We don’t so much receive reality, as we perceive it. We pre-receive it… Usually all that we see are memory and expectation. Modesl create such expectation by preconceiving, like any philosophy or idea, a sort of tunnel vision of the mystery. Because we seldom touch the heart of what is happening. We experience only our idea, our dream of what is real.” (Who Dies? Stephen Levine, p.53-54)
On Shavo’ote of 1925 the Piasetzna rebbe teaches that the one who serves God with a pure and holy dei’ah / intent, integration, intimacy becomes someone that they can’t even imagine, that manifest pieces of themselves that have been concealed from oneself.
May we enter into this Yom kippur like the Vitebsker rebbe entered every shabbat – like there never was one before it and there will never be one again after it!
May we stand in courage to receive the Shabbat Queen as She holds by Her side Avinu Malkeinu till the last moments.
gmar chatima tova and b’ahava rabba,
From Reb Sholom Brodt
Yom Kippur Thoughts
“Tshuvah, Prayer and Tzedakkah wipe away the evil decree!”
Erev Yom Kippur 5771
Dear friends “ad 120 b’simcha”!
Shalom uvracha mi’Yerushalayim!
And so here we are on Erev Yom Kippur once again and we have another Divine opportunity and gift to reach for the highest and deepest.
To Enter the Kodesh Hakodoshim
Reb Shlomo zt”l explained that when Aharon Hakohen entered the Holy of Holies – the Kodesh Hakodoshim, all of Israel ‘went in with him’. What does this mean, when In fact only he himself entered and no one else was allowed to be there with him? We understand that Aharon Hakohen was our emissary, the emissary of all of Israel, and in that sense we too ‘entered’ with him, so to speak.
But Reb Shlomo takes us to a higher and deeper understanding. He explains that when Aharon Hakohen entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim, he connected us to the utmost holiness and beyond beyond, he connected us to our deepest and always pure connection with Hashem. At this deepest and highest connection point there is no trace of our transgressions for they don’t reach there.
Our holy Rabbis teach that it is because of this deep connection that even one who does not keep Shabbos for example, nevertheless connects with Shabbos at least for a moment. Reb shlomo explained – why do we transgress? It’s because we forgot how high we can truly be, because we forgot our connection with the beyond beyond.
When one thinks he is stuck in the ‘cloakroom’ and that he will never get into the royal chamber, he will give in to the temptations available in the cloakroom and wastes his potential. The more he gives in to temptation the more he thinks he’s at a dead end and so he chooses to ‘delight’ in even more sinful diversions and perversions and believes less and less in the infiniteness of his connection with Hashem.
And so when Aharon Hakohen entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim – the Holy of Holies, which is beyond space, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year, the day that is beyond time, he reconnected us with the beyond beyond; he restored and refreshed our faith in our highest and indestructible connection with Hashem. This service infused us with renewed energy to grow in holiness, to be ever closer with Hashem and with our brothers and sisters, to keep on moving towards actualizing our fullest potentials.
All this means that even when you might think that you are no longer connected above, you still are. Even a Jew who may have fought against his connection with Hashem, remains connected as we see in the following story.
It was just a few months after the Yom Kippur war of 1973, when this Israeli professor of literature walked into the office of a Jewish in-reach organization in Tel Aviv and said, “Rabbi I came to tell you that I am ready and desiring to dedicate all my talents toward promoting Torah education.”
The Rabbi was stunned to hear this because this professor had written and published some very stinging and confrontational articles against traditional Jewish education. He frequently used to confront and criticize the Rabbi, claiming that we would all be better off without religion. When he regained his composure the Rabbi asked him, “what brought about this great change?” And here is the story.
The professor was a reservist medic in the Israeli army. We suffered many casualties in this war. One day he was in a jeep with two other soldiers when they were hit by an enemy shell. His two comrades died and he was seriously wounded. They were all alone somewhere in the Sinai desert. Being a medic he could tell from his wounds that unless help would arrive soon, he would be dead within two hours. Thinking that these might be the last two hours of his life he wondered what would be the best way to spend them. He had dedicated his life to literature, the finest of world literature, much of which he knew by heart. So he began to recite his favorite poems and sonnets, but he felt empty. So he tried another author and another and he still felt empty.
This disturbed him greatly. Could it be that all the literature and scholarship that he had dedicated his life to, could not offer him solace in these last few minutes of his life? He began to cry like a child. “Was there nothing meaningful enough in my life, to be with me now?” He cried and cried. Suddenly in the midst of his tears a childhood memory appeared. He was six years old and his grandfather had taken him to shul. It was Simchat Torah and there was much joy in the air. A kind man gave all the children flags crowned with apples. The people were dancing with the Torah and his grandfather picked up, put on his shoulders and danced with him. They were singing happy songs and everyone was kissing the Torah scrolls as they came around again and again.
After a few moments of remembering all this, even though he was in much pain, the professor found himself happy and comforted. Strange, how strange it is that this is the only comforting memory of my life. I never thought about this, I didn’t ever remember it until now. Dancing with the Torah with a flag in my hand on grandfathers shoulders – this was the most meaningful moment of my life!? The pain from the wound was getting stronger and he was feeling weaker, but this beautiful memory would not leave him. Was he beginning to hallucinate from pain? No! This is real! This is real; this is the deepest moment of my life! And he cried out, “Hashem, my G-d, if You save me, I will dedicate my life to Your Torah and to promoting traditional Jewish education.”
It took two more days until he regained consciousness. They had found him and he underwent a few surgeries. Slowly he was coming out of his anesthesia, he opened his eyes and saw his wife and children and he began to cry; he cried like a little child, like a little child; he had regained his purest childhood moment and he was never going to let go of it again.
This is what happened in the Holy of Holies. In the Holy of Holies our connection is permanent; even if we forget it, even if we fight against it, it remains permanent. On Yom Kippur we regain our awareness of this amazing bond between us and Hashem.
May we all be blessed with much joy and conscious connection always! We wish you and all of Israel a ‘gmar chattimah tovah’ for a great year!
The Meaning of the Ketoret
Before you go I would like to share a short excerpt from a great book, soon to be published b’ezrat Hashem, by our friend Reb Avraham Sand. Reb Avraham, has dedicated over twenty years to studying and researching the Ketoret service and has written a book The Meaning of the Ketoret [and the inner spiritual ‘avodah’ we learn from it]. The Incense Offering inside the Holy of Holies was done only once a year on Yom Kippur. I feel that the following two paragraphs, which represent only a tiny drop of the many teachings we will get to learn from Reb Avraham, will help open a doorway for us to understanding a bit more on the meaning of this extraordinary service.
“The Hebrew word Ketoret – Incense – is derived from the root word KaTaR which means “smoke.” Resh Lakish teaches that this root word refers to smoke that produces a fragrance, and which elevates us to a higher place. The Jerusalem Temple Incense takes us to lofty heights even more than an animal Sacrifice brings us to a higher level. In every way, the Incense Sacrifice is sent straight up to heaven, as a pleasant fragrance to the Holy One as it also elevates the people of Israel.
“Each day during Temple times, the High Priest’s morning began (and afternoon ended) with Holy KeToReT. From the Midrash Tanchuma we learn that the word Ketoret is an acronym of four elements: Kedusha – Holiness, embracing our sacred mission; Tahara – Purity, to cleanse the spirit;Rachamim – Mercy, generosity; and Tikva – Hope, replacing despair with the vision of a bright future. The Incense is meant to light up our darkest places, unite our bodies and souls in the service of God, and imbue our lives with holiness, purity, compassion and hope. The aroma of the Incense recalls the essence of the Garden of Eden before the Creation of Man, when it was completely pure and without any sin. As it says in our Holy teachings, “The aroma of the Temple Incense is a true reminder of the Fragrance of the Garden of Eden.” [Machzor HaMikdash]”
To Rid Ourselves of Negativity
Another service unique to Yom Kippur was the Sa’ir l’Azazel, which Reb Shlomo explains as a service to get rid of our negativity. According to the Midrash, when Hashem was about to create man, there were two angels, Uzah and Azael, who prosecuted against the creation of mankind, saying “Mah enosh ki tizkerenu? – What is man [worth] that You should think of him?”
In a lesson based on the Beis Yakov’s explanation of this Midrash, Reb Shlomo zt”l explained, that we learn in the Torah that when Hashem said, “let us make man,” He invited all creations to contribute something of themselves toward the creation of man. And so Adam- man has something in common with every one of G-d’s creations. Adam is at the same very much worldly, of the earth [adamah = earth] and also heavenly [adameh l’elyon = I am similar to the supernal]. Man is capable of the highest and the lowest.
Angels can be understood as energies. While many angels contributed positive holy energies, Uzah and Azael however protested against the creation of Man. Their very protest is what they contributed. It is this voice of Uzah and Azael that is the source of our negativity towards others and even towards our selves. When we find ourselves saying to another, “who needs you, get out of my way,” or even if we just think like that and don’t say it because we are polite, this negativity originates with Uzah and Azael. This negativity is so pervasive that often we question whether we can ever really get away from it.
Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement is about ‘fixing’ our wrongdoings. Complete tshuvah is more than regretting and making amends etc.; complete tshuvah is getting back in touch with our deeper reality, with our highest self – beyond all negativity. We are in fact created in the image of Hashem, and that we in fact do have free choice – which means that we can and we must take responsibility for our behavior and we are not permanently or even temporarily enslaved to the negative voice of Uzah and Azael. Their negativity exists only so that we should serve Hashem out of free choice and always go higher and higher.
To be conscious of this higher reality and free choice is a major and refreshing part of the Yom Kippur service. From the Torah we understand that we need Hashem’s help and assistance to accomplish and actualize this higher state of being, which He grants us every day of the year when we do Tshuvah, but it is on Yom Kippur that we receive this Divine gift, most of all.
As we do our part in Tshuvah as best as we can in our prayers and in mending our relationships [by asking forgiveness from others and from Hashem], Hashem provides us with the gift of “Kapparah”- atonement.
We wish you all a wonderful, meaningful joyous Yom Kippur and may we merit the coming of Moshiach very quickly in our days.
Sholom and Judy
The Rebbe Reb Zusha’s teaching on Tshuvah
Reb Schneur Zalman once told his grandson, Reb Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch: “In the year 1768, . . . Reb Zusha said simply: ‘I cannot reach the level of repentance that our rebbe has described. I would rather divide Tshuvah into five parts. For the word tshuvah is made up of the initial letters of five verses:
ת ש ו ב ה
תמים תהי’ה עם ה’ אלוקיך
You shall be perfect with the Lord your G-d”
שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד
“I have set the Lord always before me”
ואהבת לרעך כמוך
“Love your neighbor as yourself”
בכל דרכיך דעהו
“Know Him in all your ways”
הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך
“Walk humbly with your G-d”
form Sippurei Chassidim – a Treasury of Chassidic Tales. Rabbi S.Y. Zevin. Festivals p.69
Learn To Look at The World With Different Eyes.
‘During the Ten Days of Tshuvah, I am truly trying to change my life, to bring out that which is my deepest depths. During these ten days I look at the world with different eyes!’
Many people might not realize this, but we can actually retrain ourselves as to how we look at things. We can and we must train ourselves to see the positive points in one another. We must learn to see the good in life, to see the potential for good in ourselves and in others.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Why I Wear A Tallit At Night
Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall become like wool Is.1:18
From the narrowness I called G*d Ps.118:5
My tallit is white
Tzaddi Mem Resh
I wear it in the night time
Once a year
When I am drawing down
G*d’s complete mercy
On my little
Out of the narrowness
I call on You
Mem tzaddi resh
When I am in Meitzar
I need compassion
Drawn down from within
My cloak of Tzemer.
My sins turn white
The nature of my deeds
Narrowness to Wool
Meitzar to Tzemer
That’s why I wear
From Rabbi Miles Krassen
Yom Kippur 5771
Erev Yom Ha-Kippurim 5771 תשע”א
In appreciation of all your support and gratitude for all those who generously donated in memory of my father, Itzhaq Aizik Dov Ber ben Shimon ha-Kohen, zatza”l, I am pleased to offer this brief teaching for Yom Kippur.
תהיה שנת אהבת עולם
Ordinarily we experience a world that we consider overwhelmingly real. But Sefer Yetzirah teaches us that the ephemeral world of our ordinary experience can be better understood asעש”ן ASHa”N (smoke and mirrors). This smokiness doesn’t mean that the world and everything in it is not real. It’s just that its true reality is concealed from us and manifests as Olam, Shanah, Nefesh (ASHa”N), space, time, and the perspective of an individual, ego-centered mind and consciousness. Because of the lack of clarity inherent in our ordinary existence, we find life problematic, blaming ourselves, others, and what we think of as “God” as responsible for our dissatisfactions. But the Torah which comes to reveal what is deeper and truer, beyond the smoke of our limited and conditional understanding, offers us an answer, teshuvah, by means of which we can break through the karmic barrier that crystallizes during the course of each yearly cycle and forgive ourselves and everything else. This answer, the practice of teshuvah, implies returning to our source, through stripping off the smoky overlays of all the levels of who we think we are and what we think the world is.
עצומו של היום מכפר (The very power of The Day itself At-ones)
Teshuvah is something that can be practiced at any time and for some highly evolved people it is a constant practice of readjusting, remembering, and retuning oneself to the very source of manifest consciousness, Shomer Yisrael (“Guradian of Israel”), the ever-awake divine consciousness that watches over and witnesses all that manifests. But even the most commendable and diligent practice of teshuvah cannot match the power of Yom Ha-Kippurim (The Day of At-onement), which the gemara calls Yuma, “The Day” with a capital “T.” The efficacy of The Day is one of the greatest secrets of the Torah and defies comprehension by our limited, uni-perspectival, ego-centric minds. Generally, when we practice some form of teshuvah, the results are proportionate to our efforts, and despite even our very best efforts to “do teshuvah” a piece of independent existence remains operative. But Maimonides teaches in his Hilkhot Teshuvah (How Teshuvah Works) that “עצומו של היום מכפר (The very power of The Day itself At-ones).” As human beings who are the smoky expressions of the underlying divine fire, we have to feel regret for all of the shortcomings that we associate with ourselves, the actions of others that sadden us, and basically everything we feel that is related to a sense of not having fully succeeded in playing our divinely deployed roles and the world not having yet achieved its full potential. But that regret and remorse most commonly associated with “repentance” is only the most external aspect of teshuvah. The Heart’s remorse is itself a sign of the inner divine presence, since conscience is itself a divine quality and its inner expression is an intimation of divine love and devequt (non-separation from the divine source). But the power of the unique Light that is disclosed only on “The Day” is so great that such a superficial awareness of devequt is only a mere awakening and this Light has the power to attract us beyond all our manifest forms until we reach the level of transparency alluded to in Leviticus 16:30, “For on This Day, at-onement occurs beyond all manifest forms of individuated self, to purify you of the weight of remorse for all you think of as your misdoings. In the very consciousness of the Totality, you will be purified.”
What then is the “secret” of this amazing teaching? In general, all our experience can be understood as “ratzo ve-shov” (actively striving to progress towards the “omega point” of evolution’s telos and re-centering ourselves again and again in the very source from which the evolving manifestations of ASHa”N emerge). On “The Day,” however, everything is “shov,” returning to the Light itself before “the smoke” even appears. That all-attracting Light is the secret of the י”ג מידות הרחמים (the 13 Qualities of Divine Compassion). The unveiling of this Light ultimately elevates consciousness beyond our individuated, self-centered perspective that is called בחירה (bechirah free-will) to the level in which there is a merging with the higher consciousness and Divine Mind of the Totality, called ידיעה (Yedi’ah, Divine Knowledge).
From this perspective it is clear that everything all-together is always already integrally moving according to the Will of the Totality (רצון ה’) and the very nature of existence itself IS the evolutionary process תקון עולם (Tikkun Olam). And this is the very Heart ofאמונה (Emunah, “faith”) and אהבת עולם (Ahavat Olam, Divine Love). From the perspective of the higher consciousness (Yedi’ah) ofthe Great Light of the 13 Qualities of Divine Compassion, the very basis of all existence, it is clear that “you” as a manifestation of the totality cannot possibly have done anything wrong (even though there are karmic consequences). Or more correctly, you could not have done anything other than what the Will of the Totality (Retzon Ha-Shem) required of “you.” And the realization of this At-onement is in itself the secret of divine pardon. The Great Mind within which “you” are a dream and a thought loves its creation and covers over what on the ordinary level of consciousness (bechirah) we consider our faults and shortcomings. From this higher perspective we recognize that זדונות נעשה זכויות (even our intentional misdeeds are considered as merits). יהוה (YHVH) loves and blesses every one of us for the mere fact of our existing!
May we all have the merit to realize this on The Day of the great pardoning, The Day of At-onement.
תהיה שנת אהבת עולם
May we all have the merit to bask in the purification of the 13 Qualities of Divine Compassion. May the new creation of 5771תשע”א (Tav SHin Ayyin Alef) Tehiye SHenat Ahavat Olam: a year of Ahavat Olam, of limitless, endless divine love for the entire world and all beings that inhabit it.
Gemar tov .
משה אהרן בן יצחק איזיק הכהן
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
DUMPING TRASH AT THE PALACE:
A TEACHING ABOUT YOM KIPPUR
Truly. There is such a teaching. I am not making this up. The ancient rabbis tell us
that “On Yom Kippur, The One Who Spoke and the World Came into Being gets
exceedingly high on joy over having gifted us with this special day. It is analogous to
a king who discovers that his household and his servants are dumping their garbage
at the gates of his palace. When he goes out to examine the garbage, he rejoices with
a great joy. Likewise with the Holy Blessed One, who rejoices with a great joy for
having gifted us Yom Kippur out of magnanimous love [even as we dump our sins at
the gates of the Palace]. Not only that, but in the very moment when the Holy
Blessed One examines our individual sins and forgives them, the Holy Blessed One
does not become sad or disappointed but rather exults in great celebration and
declares to the mountains and the hills, and to the valleys and the wadis: ‘Come join
with me in celebrating this great joy around my having forgiven these sins’” (Midrash
Tana D’bei Eliyahu Rabbah 1:6).
Humbug, you say. Just an isolated teaching.
Not really. Here is another one:
“They asked Wisdom, ‘The consequence of the sinner, what is it?’ Replied Wisdom,
‘Those who sin shall be pursued by evil’ (Proverbs 13:21). They asked Prophecy,
‘The consequence of the sinner, what is it?’ Replied Prophecy, ‘The soul that sins is
headed toward death (Ezekiel 18:4). They asked Torah, ‘The consequence of the
sinner, what is it?’ Replied Torah, ‘Let them bring a sacrifice and be atoned’ (Leviticus
1:4). They asked God, ‘The consequence of the sinner, what is it?’ Replied God, ‘Let
them turn around and be forgiven’, as is written (Psalms 28:8), ‘God redirects the
wayward onto the correct path’” (Midrash Pesikta D’Rav Kahana, Shuvah, para. 8).
The message many of us seem to get around this taboo term we refer to as “sin” is
that it “separates us from God.” And that repentance – or in Hebrew teshuvah,
literally: Returning – is the act of narrowing that separation and reconnecting with
God by acknowledging what we did wrong and working at not doing it again (or at
least not when God is looking). However, the 18th-century mystic, Rabbi Tzadok
Ha’Kohayn, gifts us with a deeper understanding of all this. He teaches that actually
you never left home. You did not create any separation of so much as a fraction of a
mili-milimeter of distance between you and God when you made your oops. On the
contrary, your capacity to make that boo-boo to begin with – not the wrongful act
itself but the capacity to do it — was made possible by God who breathes life into
your being every moment.
Teshuvah, according to Rabbi Tzadok, is then not a long arduous journey over some
unfathomably deep chasm across a flimsy swinging rope bridge. It is the act of
turning around to re-engage the One who has been behind you all along, even in the
moment when you erred. It is hearing God saying, “Wait! Don’t run away! Just turn
around. I am right here!” It is the act of realigning your actions to where God would
most likely have preferred it to be in the very moment that the breath of life was
gifted to your being while you were erring (Tzid’kat Ha’Tzadik, No. 100).
And if we’re too embarrassed to turn around, God accepts partial responsibility and
says to us: “Okay, then, I will take the first step,” as is written (Jeremiah 30:18), “Thus
says God, ‘Behold! I am returning…’” (Midrash Pesikta Rabbati, Shuvah Yisra’el, folio 184).
Bottom line, it is we who make God out to be some kind of exacting, judgmental ogre.
Like God said in an interview by the prophet Jeremiah: “Is it me that they anger? Is it
not their own guilt that they are facing?” (Jeremiah 7:19).
The God of Love is not an alien concept to Judaism except in the minds of those bent
on discrediting Judaism. As the Zohar puts it: “The highest of all the heavenly
realms is the Realm of Love. And therein does the Holy Blessed One dwell, for the
Holy Blessed One is always enrobed in Love. And the Holy Blessed One does not
ever separate Itself from Love. As is written: ‘And a river flowed forth from Eden’ (Genesis 2:10). Indeed, it flows forth continuously, and bonds with the universe in Love” (Zohar, Vol. 5, folio 267b).
Now go take out the garbage.
Yom Kippur 5770 September 27 – September 28, 2009
“A Meditation on Academy for Jewish Religion, CA”
by Tamar Frankiel, PhD
Dean of Academic Affairs,
On Yom Kippur afternoon we read the story of Jonah, prophet to the ancient city of Nineveh, who catalyzed the teshuvah (repentance) of all its inhabitants. This story of collective teshuvah might be a model for us, were it not for the puzzle of Jonah himself. Jonah is not only a reluctant prophet but also an unhappy one.
Yet Jonah’s peculiar misery brings us an important lesson: Yom Kippur is not so much about judgment as it is about rediscovering life. Let’s look at the story to see this unfold.
Jonah is commanded to go to Nineveh, but flees instead to a ship setting out to sea. Saved from a watery death, he goes at last to prophesy. He believes, however, that the Ninevites are so wicked they should not be given the chance to repent. Sullen and resentful, he uses the holy formulas of repentance to accuse G-d: “I knew You are a compassionate and gracious G-d, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness, renouncing evil!” Strange words from a prophet.
Compounding the puzzle, a midrash informs us that Jonah was the child Elijah had resurrected from the dead. In a time of widespread famine, he was inexplicably chosen to survive. Now, in this ‘second life,’ he nearly died in a storm at sea, and was miraculously saved. Doesn’t Jonah want others to have the same second or third chance?
Sometimes, we cannot appreciate miracles precisely because they are miracles – because they demand that we accept a view of reality beyond logic and natural law. Sometimes we come to hate the mystery we cannot control or predict. Today, for example, we see an upsurge in popular books by atheists who bitterly condemn all religion. They proclaim science, with its certainty of evidence and experiment, as the only truth, regarding religion as a crutch for the feeble-minded. Belief in a higher spiritual purpose is ridiculous.
Jonah, a prophet who hears G-d speak, is not an atheist. But like the modern skeptic, he too is confounded by the unexplainable. Why did he survive when so many others died? Why was he chosen to be G-d’s messenger against his will? If he is supposed to proclaim justice, why isn’t G-d following through with judgment? Taking the opposite view from Abraham on the city of Sodom, Jonah hates to see evil go unpunished.
Immersed in his troubled view of the world, he sits outside the city, watching cynically as the Ninevites in sackcloth are let off the hook. He doesn’t want to hear about repentance, his or theirs. “My death is better than my life,” he proclaims.
Jonah is preoccupied with death. G-d approaches Jonah, wishing to help him break through that deadness. “Are you so very angry?” He asks. Then G-d stages the growth of a gourd to shade Jonah from the sun, perhaps to offer a ‘teachable moment.’ Jonah briefly feels joyfulness while the gourd spreads its leaves over him, but then relapses into anger.
“You were concerned for the gourd,” G-d pleads. “Should I not be concerned for Nineveh the great city, where there are more than a hundred twenty thousand human beings who do not know their right hand from their left, and many cattle?”
We do not hear Jonah’s reply. But G-d’s message is clear: He is no longer evaluating the number of deeds or even the sincerity of repentance. Life itself, and the opportunity for life to continue and grow, is an overriding value.
The book of Jonah thus offers us two parables. One is the repentance of Nineveh which gained the city’s salvation, paralleling our fasting and confession which can bring us back to G-d. But the other, more subtle and disturbing, is the alienation that keeps us from joining wholeheartedly to G-d and community in the first place.
Do we sometimes prefer to sit back uninvolved, silently judging all this ceremony as mere show? Does our anger at G-d get in our way? Do we think we know how justice and compassion should be meted out (and it certainly is not being done right)? If so, Jonah is our mirror: Anger and resentment lead only to deadness, to death.
In our own prayers as Yom Kippur comes to a close, our thoughts can turn to the gourd, the cattle, the hundred twenty thousand ordinary folk – from the simple pleasures of life to the loves and joys of all humanity. G-d pleads also with us to be concerned for life
From Rav Kook
This is the link to 8 teachings and stories of Rav Kook on Yom Kippur.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
This is the link to the teaching : Yom
Kippur- Reclaiming Your Essential Self
From Rabbi David Seidenberg
Who says, I will sin and then atone…
Death and Yom Kippur atone with t’shuvah, returning.
T’shuvah atones for active and for negative transgressions [that are] lighter,
and for severe ones, it hangs suspended until Yom Kippur comes and atones.
One who says, “I will sin and I will return, I will sin and I will return,”
there is not enough in his hand to do t’shuvah;
“I will sin and Yom Hakipurim atones,” Yom Kippur doesn’t atone.
Transgressions between a person and the Place, Yom Kippur atones;
Transgressions between a person and their fellow, Yom Kippur doesn’t atone
until they make their fellow accept [them and their t’shuvah]
~ Mishnah Yoma 8:8-9
R. Matyah ben Heresh asked R. Elazar ben Azaryah at Rome:
Have you heard of the four distinctions in atonement kaparah that R. Ishmael was expounding?
He said to him: They are [only] three, and t’shuvah [goes] with each one.
One who transgressed an active [command], and did t’shuvah,
he hasn’t yet moved from there and they [already] forgive him…
One who transgressed a negative [command], and did t’shuvah,
t’shuvah suspends [the sentence], and Yom Kippur atones…
One who transgressed for which the penalties are
Karet (being ‘cut off’ by Heaven), or death by Beth Din (court sentence),
t’shuvah and Yom Kippur suspend [the sentence] and sufferings issurin scratch out [the sin]….
But the one who has desecration of the name [of God] chilul hashem in his hand,
he doesn’t have power with t’shuvah to suspend, or with Yom Kippur to atone,
or with sufferings to scratch it out, but [instead] all hang suspended and death scratches it out…
Said R. Chama bar Chanina: Great is t’shuvah, for it brings healings r’fu’ot to the world.
~ Talmud Yoma 86a
T’shuvah, returning (usu. translated “repentance”) is not an easy concept. “The one who says, “I will sin and I will return, I will sin and return”: Perhaps it means, one who says it once but not twice is forgiven – in the Gemara it says, “The fourth time a person sins, they are not forgiven.” Or it means, the one who plans to do this twice even before sinning the first time.
But another way of reading this is one who feels guilt but still sins, one who goes through the same thought process, the same emotional loop, again and again. It’s not that they are not forgiven, but rather they don’t have enough strength to bring themselves to change. The mishnah isn’t describing punishment but normal cause and effect. Guilt is neither necessary nor sufficient.
T’shuvah, returning is not an easy concept. If we take it as seriously as this mishnah implies, we would be hanging in suspense under the burden of our unprocessed sins, until Yom Kipur lifted the weight off. We would be acutely aware that for some sins our own internal guilt is not a useful tool, and even changing our habits is not enough.
But if we’re not feeling guilty because we’ve already done t’shuvah, what is the actual feeling of having one’s atonement ‘hang’ in suspense? I’m stumped on how to recognize this feeling or describe it.
What then constitutes the gravest sin of chilul hashem, where atonement is so to speak permantnetly suspended, the sin which is not atoned for at all in life and is only scratched out in one’s death? The Gemara gives a few examples: Not paying the butcher immediately where people don’t run accounts; walking a short distance without Torah and tefilin; ‘anyone whose friends are embarassed because of his reputation’; one who learns Torah, but does not deal in good faith and does not speak gently. Doesn’t this bring us back to guilt tripping over the smallest mistakes and not just the big ones?
Last open question: this is a site full of eco-Torah, and I need to ask, Where do ecological sins fit in? (For liturgy on this click here.) Can we interpret sins against the Place Hamakom, which is a rabbinic name for God, to sins against the place, this place? Or do they go into the category of “bein adam l’chaveiro,” sins between a person and their fellow, in this case fellow species? If neither fits, what place do environmental sins have in the schema of atonement? I think the answer lies somewhere that includes a bit of both categories, somewhere that makes the idea of ‘bringing healings to the world’ real, but we need to work out what that means.
From Reb Zalman
The following is Reb Zalman’s excerpt on Yom Kippur from Yishmiru Daat
What aspect of “Faith in God” is emphasized on Yom Kippur? My reality says: “I believe with perfect faith that hashem yitbarach, in supernal Keter
[Note: That’s raising up the situation to a place beyond good and evil, and beyond true and false; a place where God can see the whole situation and the humanity of it, not to mention God’s own responsibility for how it happened. Keter / Crown is a Sefirah even above the world of Atzilut. It is associated with Adam Kadmon and is divided between Atik Yamin / Ancient of Days and Arich Anpin / the long face. Gabbai Seth]
(Exodus 34:6) and in “Slow to anger,” God waits for our teshuvah / turning to God so that we will have forgiveness, pardoning and atonement for all our errors, wrongs and transgressions. For God, yisbarach, gives a hand to us transgressors, when we open ourselves to God in the slightest, (even as the eye of a needle). God, yisborach says (Numbers 14:20) “I have forgiven according to your word.”