Just a quick note here, before Yom Kippur, the Day of “Atonement” – at-one-ment; the Day on which, as Rabbi Arthur Waskow says, in his book “Seasons of our Joy, we have “grown up enough to face God.” Admiration for Rabbi Waskow’s words aside, however, lately my thoughts have swirled around whether or not we are grown up enough to face ourselves.
Facing God seems easier.
Socrates may have believed that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I know some people who think that’s the only kind of life worth living. I don’t put myself into that category; indeed, perhaps I examine far too much. But examining our lives, our motives, our deeds and our misdeeds is exhausting, if you do it with intention, so I get why some people just don’t do it. That may be a reason, but it’s not an excuse. Yom Kippur reminds us of that. Rabbi Waskow says that, whereas on Shavuot we face the Mountain and receive the Torah, on Yom Kippur we “face the mountain of our own misdeeds and sorrows.” That’s one big mountain in front of me, and I’d rather receive Torah than offer up atonement. As if there’s a choice.
I like that Judaism thinks in terms of misdeeds and sorrow, not “sins” , although that’s the limiting English word we have. It’s more like “missing the target” or “tried and missed”. Sometimes you don’t hit the target at all; sometimes you even miss the wall! This year, well… I missed a lot of targets, but it has felt so much like the target just kept moving this year, so how was I supposed to hit it?
I can only say that sometimes, after Yom Kippur’s final service, Neilah, when the gates of heaven are closing and we are praying to be sealed into the Book of Life for a good year, I leave floating and feeling truly cleansed. Other years, I just walk out the door, break the fast, and feel like it was just another long day. Sometimes I feel like I should be able to choose my own personal Yom Kippur, picking a day when the world that swirls around me slows down so I can reflect. I know, I know…I can make the world slow down tomorrow, and I do. It’s just that I’m in the middle of some intense conversations and encounters…not ready to conclude just so I can meet the calendar. How about if I do Yom Kippur next week? Or next month? I’ll be ready then, I promise.
Obviously, that’s why we don’t choose our own personal Days of At-one-ment. We’d never get around to it, so we accept the imposition and adjust as best we can.
I hope this year is one of lightness and feeling truly cleansed, for you and for me. I like that feeling. Rabbi Waskow says on Yom Kippur, the work of our mouths is prayer, not taking in food. I pray that the works of my mouth and the meditations of my heart are acceptable not only to God, but to me, too. I hope to face the mountain of my misdeeds, and feel I can whittle them down even a little, get it out of the way of my personal world- vista, so I can see past it and start identifying targets again. I wish the same for you.
May you be sealed for a good year.