According to the Jewish mystics, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is an internal world within us longing for healing, connection, purpose and repair. These internal yearnings are satiated by expanding our consciousness so that we may clearly see and take measures to heal anything that is torn or broken.
It’s customary to fast for 25 hours on Yom Kippur, if medically advisable, although the Torah does not command nor exhort us to fast. The Torah tells us to to ”afflict our souls,” not our physical bodies.
Each blast of the Shofar we hear on Yom Kippur has a special meaning individually and collectively.
1. Tekiah — one solid note signifying wholeness.
2. Shvarim — a broken and wailing blast representing our inner cries, our pain and our yearning to connect. “Shvarim” means “fractured” in Hebrew.
3. Teruah — a robust series of nine staccato sounds, symbolizing a wake-up call to tikkun neshama (soul-repair).
4. Tekiah Gedolah — the Big Tekiah. We began with Tekiah, but this time it’s one, solid note extended out as far as it can go, emphatically calling for our return to wholeness, bringing us full circle.
During the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we take a full accounting (cheshbon) of our behavior over the past year. Before Yom Kippur commences, we are to ask forgiveness and make amends directly to anyone we have hurt with or without intent.
In Jewish teachings, God does not forgive us for person-to-person sins — we must do that work ourselves, person-to-person.
During out introspection and self-reflection (“afflicting our souls”) we must face Truths about ourselves and all our relationships.
The etymology of the word atonement is at-one-meant, calling upon us to be ”at-one-makers.” How can you be more at-one with yourself and the world around you?
In the Torah God tells us:
I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, so you and your offspring may live.GOD
In what ways can you choose and exemplify behavior that prioritizes quality of life?
On Yom Kippur we make a choice between business as usual or a new way of being in the world.
Yom Kippur 2020 falls on the year of a pandemic and an onslaught of distressing news.
A famous story about Rabbi Israel Salanter provides an execellent example of at-one-ment at work:
During the 1848 cholera epidemic in Russia, Rabbi Israel Salanter (founder of the Mussar movement) declared that Yom Kippur to be a day when Jews would work to provide for the sick and eat to preserve their strength, instead of fasting.
Legend has it, Rabbi Salanter stood on the bimah, while his congregation eagerly waited to hear a Yom Kippur message from this great and pious holy man…
To everyone’s surprise he proclaimed, “With the permission of God and community, we hereby permit people to eat and to drink today.” Whereupon he made the Kiddush and ate and drank in front of his congregation.
Whether truth or legend, the story was told for a reason, as stories are.
The moral of the story: Fortifying the body (sh’mirat haguf) and working to provide for the sick during an epidemic was a greater mitzvah than fasting or praying without doing.
Respect your own body as the receptacle, messenger, and instrument of the spirit.Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
The message in the Rabbi Israel Salanter story emphasizes a healthy approach to self-care and tangible acts of tikkun (repair), over fasting and praying alone.
May we each be Divinely restored by acts of tikkun in 5781.
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