Yom Kippur has engulfed Israel. A twenty five hours’ fast is ahead of us. Some of it we shall be spending in our synagogue, some of it at home, some of that time sleeping in the hope that daylight will not jump upon us too early. When we gather again for Shachrit, most of the day will be behind us. We will repeat prayers we have read, uttered and sang last year, hoping that we will be able to be here again next year for another repeat of this experience. We hope that they year stretching long ahead of us will be better than the year just past, and at least not worse. A long fast accompanies the special prayers of the Day of Atonement. In less than twenty four hours we will meet again for Neila to conclude the Yom Kippur services. It is the peek of peeks of the services of the day, our last opportunity to grab at it, take in one more thing of it that will fuel us for the year ahead.
Yom Kippur is a day where we can look back in anticipation for the future. When we understand our past year’s failures we can strive to avoid them or prevent them in the next years ahead of us. This special word in Hebrew, כיפורים, gets almost automatically translated into forgiveness, opening an opportunity for a new way. However the word itself does not really deal with that. When the word is used in Hebrew it means that something is being cover. In a sense the Noah was instructed, “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.” The word “cover” is the translation of כיפור. Noah covers his ark so that water will not be able to enter it. This is of course obvious, if he will not seal the vessel properly it will quickly sink to the bottom of the sea.
Therefore, when we are praying on Yom Kippur we are actually trying to cover our sins rather than eliminate them. A kind of a insulating layer that will prevent future misdeeds entering into us. Out past sins, mistakes, errors, and deprivations, are not eradicated. They are just covered by a thin layer that if we shall not be wise enough to keep intact will breech and expose them again, to others but mostly to ourselves. As we all know, this days does not cleanse from sins between people. The Babylonian Talmud is clear about that, “sins between man and God are cleansed on Yom Kippur. Sins between a person and a fellow man are not cleansed by Yom Kippur until such time that recentness takes place.” Therefore in order to get the cover of Yom Kippur it is first necessary to repent before the person we have sinned to. Only after that the covering layer will insulate us from these deeds.
However the biggest problem we have is of a different nature, sins that happen before those which involve God or other people. Many times we isolate ourselves from them by being soft on our behavior while being critical of like behaviors of others. It is quite easy to demand perfect behavior from others, and have requests and demands from God. Many times we simply forget to apply the process on us too. We gather the insulating material and cover things up long before we have checked what is good and bad in our lives over which we have control. Finger pointing towards another person as the one needing the insulating materials will not fix out problems and will not make us feel better about ourselves.
The Day of Atonement is an excellent opportunity for us to take introspective peek at ourselves. It allows us to carefully inspect ourselves before covering ourselves with layers of protective materials, distancing ourselves from sins, failures and mistakes. It is an opportunity to review our yearlong deeds, both globally and locally. It is an opportunity for assessment of what we have or have not done as a family, a congregation, a community, a state and as people of the world.
Several times during the day we will chant “For the sins we have made” – “על חטא שחטאנו”. A book by Yehudith Tidor-Baumel, was published in 1972 by the Bar Ilan University publisher and dealt with prayer and the Holocaust. Among others it brings a version of El Male Rakhamim that included all kinds of sins. Among them we find “For the sins we have made before You and them by being overly cautious, and for the sins we have made before You and them without doing”. The words were certainly a reflection of what had happened during the Shoua, but is indicative of a human tendency to avoid taking risks, maybe more than is really necessary or warranted. Standing there doing nothing and waiting to see the outcome. It is this self-examination that we must perform before we take more of the shielding materials, cover those sins, and devote no more time to them.
This congregation of the Israel Reform Movement has just celebrated its Jubilee, and is now starting its next fifty years of action. Partners to this are women and men, mostly volunteers but not only, that feel the need to fix the world, not allowing the difficulties of the day to do what is necessary for a better day tomorrow. The management committee of the congregation lives this day in and day out. Every day, week by week. On each festival of the Jewish calendar, at each lesson or activity. Leading us is Rabbi Dr. Edgar Nof who is currently on the other side of town with the Ramat Poleg community, as we have been doing for many years. This permits us to bring the word of Reform Judaism also to those who live far from here. They are exposed to a Judaism that is welcoming and accepting also on this very special day. Some of us also spend their time with the Movement on a national basis, these are Lior Ben Tsur who is on the Movement’s board of governors, and Moshe Cohen who is on its auditing committee. We owe much to all of them for leading the way and leading us.
Every one of us has the opportunity to join and become active in the Congregation or the Movement. This is the kind of action that step-by-step changes the congregation, the community we live in and eventually the entire State of Israel. In the last few years we were also able to support more and more our brothers and sisters abroad. It is done in projects like Domim-aLike, that connect between congregations, while other plans connect whole classes in many schools around the country to classes abroad. We do not wish to camouflage reality and hide it away, we do not wish to simply use a thin layer of insulation without changing things. We want to look at things as they are and work together to change them for the better, to dream of things never dreamt before and make them a reality. Anyone of you can take part.
Maybe it would be more correct to say that it is not Yom Kippur that brings repentance but rather we do, in what we are willing to invest in, in the change we are willing to lead, in the additional point-of-view which we take into account. It is what we do that brings that cover and insulates us from what has happened in a year past and forwards us individually and as a group towards a better year. This year will not lack challenges, we will not be able to avoid mistakes, or evade all obstacles. They will be there, they always are. We can be better prepared, with open eyes and hearts and minds. It is necessary so that this layer of Yom Kippur insulation will not shut our eyes, hearts and minds but rather the challenges, mistakes and errors so that our year will be the year we truly believe we deserve to have.
Have a meaningful fast, Shana Tova and Chatima Tova.
Reuven Marko, 8 October 2019, 10 Tishrei, 5780