Yom Kippur – a time for community

 

By Rabbi Joshua Lief –
Congregation Ahaveth Chesed –

Yom Kippur (this year on September 25-26) is the “Day of Atonement,” when we in the Jewish community join together in worship, reflect on the past year, evaluate our behavior, and resolve to try to do better.  Most Jews also refrain from food, drink, and other comforts as we focus on the higher purpose of taking a personal spiritual inventory.  We reach out to those whom we may have wronged, ask for forgiveness, and strive to make repentance.
Together with Rosh Hashanah (this year on September 16-17), the “New Year” holiday observed just ten days prior, these two sacred occasions are often called the “High Holy Days.”
Theologically, forgiveness is an external action: we ask it from, or grant it to others.  Repentance is internal: we resolve to change our own behavior and we will either fail or succeed based on our future actions.  Atonement is a sense of completion, when thanks to our efforts at forgiveness and repentance, we find ourselves and our relationships with others restored.  
A wise sage once quipped, “Don’t read it as ‘atonement,’ read it as, ‘at-one-ment’ when we become ‘whole’ again.”  Our Jewish tradition teaches that for sins committed against God, Yom Kippur offers the potential of atonement as God will forgive us if we change our ways.  However, God cannot forgive us for the sins we’ve committed against other people; we have to repair those relationships first ourselves before we can ask for atonement.
There is a suggestion in our liturgy that the “Book of Life” is opened each year on Rosh Hashanah to check our progress in the year now ended, and it is sealed on Yom Kippur as we make resolutions about the year to come.  In reality, the “Book of Life” lies open each and every moment of our lives, not only for ten days a year each fall, and every word written therein is written by us.  At every moment in our lives, we make choices that determine the path we will take.  Each choice leads to new opportunities, new decisions, and ultimately to an ever changing path.
Our Jewish tradition presents a set of ethics and values that guides us in making our choices, leading us to be better people and to make our world a better place.  While we don’t always make the best choices, Yom Kippur comes each fall to remind us of the power to change that lies within our hands all year long.  We rarely grant ourselves a moment to ponder and consider the choices we have already made; we just make them and move on, dealing with the consequences they bring.  But no one can grant you atonement.  Finding your way back to the person you want to be and becoming “at one” with your own idea of your better self is a task only you can handle.
Yom Kippur seeks to say, “Don’t put it off; start now.”  May your path in this New Year take you wherever you want to go, and may you find there happiness, health, and peace.

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