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
Shouldn’t we call it the TEN DAYS OF TURNING?
It is true that we generally refer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the HIGH HOLY DAYS or, the HIGH HOLIDAYS. These terms are not wrong - but I think we might want to utilize a lesser known (but still important) term to more accurately illuminate this specific period of time - ASSERET YAMEI TESHUVAH - the TEN DAYS OF TURNING.
Arguably, The essence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Is found in the core idea of teshuvah, which is incorrectly translated as “repentance.” Since teshuvah comes from the Hebrew verb meaning to turn or to change, I think this is a more accurate translation than repentance.
Here is the problem with repentance. In its essence repentance is really a Christian concept - this doesn’t make it bad or wrong but it is not really a Jewish concept. At times in Christian tradition repentance was built on the idea that we are born inherently bad and only by repenting can we be saved/purified/made good. Often it is taught that a belief in Jesus Christ is required to help us repent. In Judaism, we are born inherently good, and while we have the capacity to do evil, our free will can help us to choose to do good.
I believe the term teshuva is not only a more accurate translation but helps to understand what it is we are commanded to do during this ten day period. This is our time to turn away from the past and especially our mistakes of the past. This is our time to turn so that we can affirm what is good and right in our life. At the core of teshuva is the idea that we can turn and we can become better people. It will not be easy but it is doable. My wish for you is for a year of turning and changing so that you can affirm your essential goodness as a human being and as a Jew.
Rabbi Jim Simon
The Biggest Obstacle to Becoming a Better _________
As we enter the Hebrew month of Elul, we are reminded that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are upon us. Most of us know that in our tradition this is the time of year to take stock of our behavior and be willing to acknowledge where we have failed.
The High Holy Days have always been a time that we are commanded to confront important questions - not just our areas of failure, but other related questions such as, what do I really stand for and what kind of a person am I? No doubt, these are very difficult questions and most of us do not want to confront these questions. Some prefer observing the New Year at Beth Guy Lombardo, hurling confetti, drinking champagne and dancing to the familiar refrain of Auld Lang Syne (a song where 50% of the people do not know the lyrics and the other 50% know the lyrics but have no idea what the song means)
True, Guy Lombardo always looked like he was having fun. But our New Year’s observances are not meant to be fun or frivolous. We have important things to do. The questions we ask show us to be serious people who care about the way we live in this world.
In the title, the ____________ works on the theory that you would like to be a better (spouse, parent, friend, etc.) but there is an obstacle standing in your way. Every year it is your hope to be that better _________________but it just does not work out. Is it because we are not smart enough? No. Maybe it is because we don’t care enough to be a better __________? No. Is it because we are not willing to try? No again.
I think the obstacle that stands in our way of becoming a better __________ is the fact that we don’t always feel that we are worthy of/capable of being a better ____________, with the irony being that Judaism teaches that we are always worthy and always capable.
I do not believe we are inherently bad people. I do not believe we were born with a moral blemish that prevents us from becoming a better __________.
I do believe that as a New Year approaches, we can overcome the obstacles that prevent us from becoming a better. Maybe in certain areas we are better than we think we are. I hope you can liberate that part inside of you, because that is the part that will help you to be a better____________.
L’shana Tovah Tikatayvu!
Rabbi Jim Simon