“And this shall be a law to you for all time: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall pain yourself and do no work at all…For on that day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all that you have done wrong — before God you will be clean.” Leviticus 16:29030
Today is Yom Kippur. Actually it began last night, at sunset; and it continues until nightfall, tonight. For Jews the world over, it is the holiest day of the year.
Yom Kippur is the day when we are supposed to fast, and spend most of the day in synagogue, in intensive prayer. The day we atone and ask for forgiveness, for all the wrongs we have committed against God, and each other, during the past year. The hope, at the end of the day, is that we’ve been forgiven.
For many, Yom Kippur is the only holiday they observe, the only time they go to synagogue. It is that significant. In fact, fasting and abstaining from work of any kind, are only a part of what it means to observe Yom Kippur. We are also not supposed to wash, bathe, use cosmetics, deodorants, perfume, etc. Technically, we’re not even supposed to wear leather shoes. And, needless to say, sex is on the forbidden list, as well.
Why? So nothing distracts us from ‘contemplation’. This is a day of contemplation, thinking of and acknowledging our wrong-doing; and praying for forgiveness. To truly ‘reflect’ we have to get rid of clutter, so for one day we put aside all other human cares.
On the Judaism 101 website I also learned that it’s customary to wear white, which symbolizes purity. On the one or two occasions when I was in synagogue on Yom Kippur, this is something I never saw. Maybe in ultra orthodox synagogues. I also read that the ‘confessions’ don’t include the eating of pork, or driving on Shabbot, as one might assume. The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve the mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive language, scoffing, slander, talebearing, and swearing falsely, to name a few).
Yesterday’s Washington Post had a very interesting article, written by Rabbi Scott Perlo. Towards the end he described Yom Kippur as not just being a serious day, but also as a happy one: “Rabbi Zvi Teitelbaum of Mesorah D.C. puts it well. We call it the zissen ashamnu — the sweet confession. As any who have ever loved know, apology is not a tragedy. To ask for forgiveness is to birth renewal to recover intimacy. Yom Kippur is the day where we reconnect with God and each other. Of all the year, it is the day I love most.”
So today, Yom Kippur, I am not in synagogue. For the record, I don’t believe one has to ‘bank’ one’s sins, waiting for once a year to confess. I think this is something that can, and should, be done on a regular basis.
But never the less, I am reflecting on what I may have said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, that was wrong, or hurtful. And I am vowing to do better. And, because of that Washington Post article, I’ll also celebrate.