Continuity and change
Heading out for the holiday

Three Yom Kippur posts

In honor of Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown, I offer three of the Day-of-Atonement-themed essays which have resonated most strongly for me this year. First, from Rabbi Shefa Gold's website, a terrific teaching for Yom Kippur about the nature of prayer, sacrifice, and the Yom Kippur experience. Here's a taste:

Before the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he would make atonement for himself, for his family, and for his community. You had to enter empty-handed, all your baggage checked at the door.

The Holy of Holies is the place between Life and Death.

Each of us is the High Priest bidden, on Yom Kippur, to enter.... To leave our ordinary lives -- by praying all day, by fasting from food, drink, sex, washing, and wearing leather -- and enter into a timeless and placeless realm. This act was essential to the well-being of each individual and for the people as a whole. It was essential then and it is essential now. So how do we do it? And what is the Holy of Holies?

(Read the whole thing here.) I love the idea that we need to check our baggage, let go of the old hurts and familiar emotional patterns, before we can enter in to the holiday fully. And I like her suggestions for how we can achieve this, and what the Holy of Holies might mean in today's world.

Rabbi Alan Lew has written a sermon which touches on atonement, creation, the four worlds, the nature of mindfulness, and why it's important that we speak our mistakes aloud at this time of year:

Teshuvah is a complex process, but it has two major movements; (1) bilvavcha -- becoming conscious of what's in our hearts, and (2) bificha -- bringing this awareness out of our hearts and into speech, into our mouths. Carefully moving this consciousness outward; moving these things we have become aware of through the process of teshuvah from the murky metaphysical shadows of our inner world, to the light of the great world outside...

At one point in the sermon he describes the experience of participating in one of his own workshops, pairing off with a woman and facing the task of speaking to her the truths of his own life:

I started speaking of things I had thought of a thousand times before -- of my anger, of my obstinance, of my refusal to give up the grudges I held against people; I knew these things as well as I knew the back of my own hand. I had thought these thoughts a thousand times before. Still, to get them out made a tremendous difference. I knew them, but as long as they were unspoken, I could ignore them. I didn't have to act on them. Now that I had said them out loud to another human being, they were out there in the world. It would be harder to ignore them anymore, harder to deny them, harder to act in a way which failed to take them into account.

(Read the whole thing here.) I love the breadth of the essay, and I find his argument about the need for speech compelling. Also, I can't help loving the fact that he quotes Paul Celan. Hat tip Judith, who also recently posted a poem by Yehoshua Karsh that I love a lot.

And from Danya Ruttenberg of Jerusalem Syndrome comes Mitah v'Yom HaKippurin Michaprin ("Death, and Yom Kippur, Atone"), a d'var Torah she first offered a couple of years ago. She talks here about Talmud, about Clinical Pastoral Education, about the connections between death and Yom Kippur, and about how active teshuvah is complemented by the seemingly-passive act of letting go:

Today is the day that we are rehearsing our own death. Our prayers take on the frenzied intensity of last chances precisely because, on the level of Divine reality, this is our last chance. There is an utter finality to this moment. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. Today is the day that we die.

So what tools do we have to emerge through to the other side? What do we need to know, right now, in order to weather the storm of our own death …………and, hopefully, to be reborn?

(Read the whole thing here.) I love the way she weaves her CPE experiences into her understanding of what Yom Kippur means; that resonates for me this year, for obvious reasons. And when she writes about the need to acknowledge where we're not in control, and the risks entailed by that process, she's speaking some really powerful truths.

I found these essays thought-provoking and resonant; I hope they're as helpful to you as they are to me. If you will be fasting, I wish you a meaningful and mindful fast. And g'mar chatimah tovah -- may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year!

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