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:

  1. We will never be forgiven, [NOTE: Why try to be good because we will fail] or,
  2. 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.

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