Yom Kippur - The Loneliest Day of the Jewish Year
We get a clear hint about the radical uniqueness of Yom Kippur when we look at the traditional translation of Yom Kippur as the Day of Atonement. To some, this breaks down as the Day-of-at-one-ment, the time we are commanded to be alone. Even though we can be surrounded by others, Yom Kippur requires us to spend a significant amount of time alone so we can do the necessary “soul accounting” that is required in order for us to atone for our wrongs. (We certainly have enough alone time on Yom Kippur - if you are not working, eating or shopping, there should be sufficient time for you to review the past year and identify all the areas where you fell short.)
The haftarah of Yom Kippur is from Isaiah where we are told “Don’t hide from your own flesh.” To me, the real meaning of this is don’t hide from who you really are, because sooner or later God or life will find you. It is a difficult and a lonely task to admit our failings and mistakes.
Do you know anyone who actually wants to admit their mistakes? I don’t. Yet, as hard as this is, as embarrassing as this can be, this is what we are commanded to do because acknowledgement of our mistakes is the beginning of the process that can lead to atonement and eventually teshuvah. If we cannot get past this first step, we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes in the year to come.
Only when we are alone can we summon the courage to reflect on the previous year -this is not a fun or joyous process, but it is an important one.
May you be sealed for a year of health and safety.
Rabbi Jim Simon
The High Holy Days come to grant us a preview of the “brink of everything.” They bring us a taste of the striking view, the full panorama and the bracing breeze that awakens us to new understandings of the trajectories of our lives.
It feels like we have been on the brink at Temple Chai. We have experienced so many challenges and said farewell to people we love. It has been difficult for all of us. What a joy to enter into a new year, to be able to move into a new year that offers so much possibility.
The High Holy Days lead us to double down on our gratitude for those who have helped us and for the good things we have. We have a strong community filled with congregants who are committed to the Temple. We have strong leadership. We have weathered a difficult time and have emerged even stronger. Now with the High Holy Days, we will achieve compassion. We will increase forgiveness. We will become one as a community and forge our future together.
We also turn inward to express gratitude to those who have enriched our lives. And as we forgive those who have wronged us and ask those we have wronged to forgive us, we find peace and tranquility.
We fast on Yom Kippur to allow us time to concentrate on the important tasks at hand: t’shuvah (repentance), t’fillah (prayer), and tzedakah (philanthropy and charity). We apologize to those we have wronged, and we vow to not repeat our sins. We take the day off from work to attend services and pray. At Temple Chai, we feed the hungry by participating in the annual High Holy Days Food Drive. We do not pick and choose which of these three tasks to engage each year, rather it is important for us to recognize that each task is intimately connected. I was moved by a passage in Preparing your Heart for the High Holy Days (Olitzky and Sabath) that reads:
“If you have committed any misdeeds, then do many mitzvot to match them." [Leviticus Rabbah 21:1].
Transforming misdeeds into mitzvot is one of the most amazing effects of t’shuvah. Even more wondrous is the transformation of the one who committed the wrongdoing in the first place. As human beings, we invariably struggle and sin. Then we have to work hard at forgiveness. But we can and do change, evolving into better people. Had we not sinned in the first place, perhaps we would not now be ready to do t’shuvah…Performing mitzvot can help us to heal. Not only do mitzvot rebuild relationships between individuals and God, but they also repair broken relationships between people. They provide us with divine instructions for holy living.
Where and how we begin doing mitzvot does not matter. What matters is that we begin now. This week. Before Yom Kippur. We can involve our friends and members of our family. We can teach others (especially our children if we have them) by doing mitzvot rather than by just talking about them. Doing mitzvot with others often brings people together in ways we can never anticipate nor duplicate. And through our efforts we can change the world, one redeeming act at a time. As we pray during this season, t’shuvah, t’fillah, and tzedakah indeed can thwart the severity of the decree. We need not worry about everything. We can leave that to God. There are plenty of little things broken in the world. All we have to do is pick one of them and begin to fix it.”
How are you incorporating tzedakah into your world this season? What one thing are you doing to fix the world?
Associate Executive Director
On Rosh Hashanah the Book of Life is opened and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. The blast of the shofar is meant to awaken our slumbering soul and we are given a chance to reshape our life in a better image. This period is devoted to careful examination of who we are and a time for reflection and forgiveness. But what does this really mean to our youngest children? How do we teach the idea of forgiveness to our children? What does it really mean to say “I’m sorry” when you are 2 years old?
Teaching kids to apologize when they hurt others is important, but it should not be forced. What really matters is teaching your kids to be attentive to others’ feelings from a very young age. All kids make mistakes and act in ways their parents wish they wouldn’t. When they inevitably bite another kid or ruin their sibling’s painstakingly assembled puzzle, it’s natural for us as parents to demand they apologize. On a good day, the child will give an apology without a fight and because it’s been memorized as the proper reaction. But whether or not they mean it is questionable. Some kids are too young to realize why they’ve hurt someone’s feelings and can’t grasp what “I’m sorry” means. Sometimes children just say “I’m sorry” because they are following an instruction and trying to get out of whatever just happened. Having them check on the person they hurt is helpful to understanding forgiveness and empathy. Kids need to learn how their actions impact others and what to do about it. Children can learn to identify the harm they’ve caused and decide on their own that they need to make amends. Here are some strategies-
Feeling sorry about stomping another person’s sandcastle requires empathy and building empathy is a process. Once they understand why they are saying “I’m sorry” helps set a boundary and show that something was not okay. It shows children we respect and care about feelings and that we take responsibility for our mistakes. If we help show them how to do it, let them feel how much it matters, they will learn to really mean it when they apologize. When we teach children this level of emotional intelligence they understand how to recognize their feelings, figure out where these feelings come from and how to deal with them. These are the most essential skills for success in life!
Early Childhood Center Director
This year I am once again all over the map and my “headspace” is everywhere. Things aren’t what I’m used to, and it isn't what I want but, it’s what we have - for now. Without the structure of time, community and the rhythm of Jewish life, it is easy to step away, not feel connected, and not engage in the needs of a community.
We say as a collective, “Al cheyt shechatanu l’fanecha - For the sins We have committed against You.” For the sins WE have committed. WE? Where have I been in the WE? I’ve been in my bubble and often just trying to keep my head above water. This Yom Kippur, as we say the Al Cheyt and follow the tradition of beating our fist to our chests, we are reminded that we are part of the greater and have a responsibility for one another.
My presence, your presence in the Jewish world is essential, wherever you are. Let us remember that it is the WE. It always has been and God willing, always will be.
This Shabbat Shuva, Shabbat of Return, as we take this precious time to pause and reflect, may each of us discover a way in which to redirect our energies for the good, resurface to see the incredible world around us, and may we renew our efforts to be part of the WE, for a year of blessings and peace.
When you pray, pray in the synagogue of your city; if you are unable to pray in the synagogue, pray in your field; if you are unable to pray in the field, pray in your home, if you are unable to pray in your home, pray on your couch; and if you are unable to pray on your couch meditate in your heart.
Midrash Tehillim 4:9
Cantor Emerita Sharona Feller
Chi joined Temple Chai as the Shalom Center Coordinator in 2021. She brings her passion for service, volunteer experience with life cycle events, and administrative professionalism to this role.
Chi has had many careers ranging from cow milking, to accounting, to being an art teacher. She also makes custom stained glass and mosaics for homes, gardens, and businesses.
Chi is originally from Michigan, where she earned her BA in Business and Entrepreneurship from Michigan State University. She lives in Phoenix with her husband, Matthew, their foster child, and two dogs. Chi is honored to be supporting the wonderful Caring Community volunteers that help keep Temple Chai more than just a place of worship, but a community.
Chi can be reached at email@example.com
I believe it could be argued that fasting on Yom Kippur is one of the most intimate and spiritual traditions of the Jewish faith. The best explanation I have found for this comes from Gates of the Season: A Guide to the Jewish Year:
On Yom Kippur we seek reconciliation with God and humanity. Repentance (Teshuvah) involves a critical self-assessment of the past year and the resolve to avoid lapses in sensitivity in the future. Teshuvah requires discipline. Our fasting on Yom Kippur demonstrates our willingness to submit to discipline. How can we atone for our excesses toward others unless we can curb appetites which depend on no one but ourselves? To set boundaries for our own conduct in this very private matter is to begin the path toward controlling our public behavior.
In other words, in order to have the strength and courage to perform teshuvah, it is helpful, or even necessary, to prove to ourselves that we have control over our impulses and our cravings. Not eating or drinking for 24 hours is challenging, but it teaches us that we do have the strength to take on challenges and rise above basic urges. It reminds us that it is our mind, not our impulses, that have control.
As a parent and as a teacher, I often struggled with how to teach this to our children. The message of self-control and self-discipline is so important in this time of peer pressure and social media, but, since children are not able to fast, to make this lesson tangible for them during the High Holy Days, we can talk with them about how difficult it really is to say “no thank you” to temptations. For adults, choosing to fast is not easy, but we can do it, and we have Yom Kippur to prove it to ourselves every year. For students, choosing to not give in to peer pressure or choosing to say no to unhealthy experiences is also not easy, and they have Yom Kippur to remind them that they are strong enough to make difficult choices and to give them the chance to practice saying no thank you, even if it makes them temporarily uncomfortable.
I would challenge children to do something on Yom Kippur that will help them prove to themselves that they are indeed strong enough to overcome their cravings and fears when admitting to mistakes or when standing up for what is right. Here are some ideas that my students have suggested throughout the years...
“I will only eat fruit for breakfast, even though I really love cereal.”
“I will drink only water with my meals all day, even though I usually drink juice and milk.”
“I will not eat any sweets all day, even though I love having a dessert with my lunch.”
“I will eat a small breakfast and a small lunch, even though I usually eat until I’m stuffed.”
“I will not eat snacks between meals on Yom Kippur, even though I usually eat a lot of snacks.”
This Yom Kippur, consider challenging yourself and your children with a form of fasting that works to help remind you that you are, indeed, strong enough.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat captured exactly what is going through my mind. We are struggling to bring depth and meaning to our holiest days for another year.
Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah
I don't want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that's all we've done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don't want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year --
even if I'm not ready, even if this year
I'm not sure I know the words to pray.
Cantor Ross Wolman