Reflections from Yom Kippur


Today is the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.  Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, a day Jews take stock of their lives, give an accounting of the year, reevaluate priorities and actions, and confront their failings, assured of God’s forgiveness.  In the Machzor for Yom Kippur (the service book we use comes out of the Reform tradition), the day is described this way:  “In rabbinic literature Yom Kippur is often called yoma, ‘The Day’: the most important day of the year. The dramatic movement of the day itself is from the depths to the heights, from anxiety to reassurance and reconciliation, wiping clean once again the tarnished slate of our lives as we enter upon a new year with renewed hope for the future.”

The commemoration began last night, and I attended the opening service here at the college, which was, as usual, really beautiful and meaningful.  (Our rabbinical student, Josh, does an amazing job leading us). This specific service is the Kol Nidre service, a service of repentance.  I wanted to share a few meditations from the Machzor, because I found them so moving, and to me, they really get at the heart of this profound day and what it means for the relationship between God and each individual.  I hope you enjoy them.

“Every soul needs to express itself. Every heart needs to crack itself open. Every one of us needs to move from anger to healing, from denial to consciousness, from boredom to renewal. These needs did not arise yesterday. They are among the most ancient of human yearnings, and they are fully expressed in the pageantry and ritual of the Days of Awe, in the great journey we make between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

“On the High Holy Days in particular, our prayer has some additional goals. We are trying to remove our protective armor–ego, self deception, rationalization, external and internal ‘make up’, posturing–anything that keeps us from seeing ourselves as we really are. We’re trying to experience both our vulnerability, and the true source of our strength. And, perhaps most importantly, we are trying to get past our self-judgment and locate a place of gentleness and tenderness–that place where we feel deeply loved and valued, and where we feel most loving of others. Even if just for a moment.”

“What an extraordinary gift it is–what a blessing, what a miracle to have been raised by imperfect parents who did their very best; to share our life with a partner no more flawed than we are; to count as a friend one who understands, and accepts us most of the time. How brave, how hard it is to be ‘good enough’ in our ties to one another: to give, even when we’re exhausted; to love faithfully; to receive with grace the love imperfectly offered to us.”

“We resolve this night to embrace the practice of forgiveness: to forgive others who failed to be all we hoped they would be; to forgive ourselves when we fall short of what others hoped we would be. We declare this night that we will cherish goodness wherever it is found, and open ourselves to the gifts that are before us.”

“We do well to remember that the ultimate purpose of this day, and of the entire High Holy Day season, is to help us shape lives that are more thoughtful and compassionate, more ethical, and more reverent.”

“The most beautiful thing that one can do is to forgive a wrong.”



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