Two readings before Yom Kippur
September 20, 2007
I offer, as food for thought, excerpts from two essays I read today which may resonate for others who are preparing for Yom Kippur. The first is by Jay Michaelson, in an article in The Forward which is, in turn, adapted from his book God In Your Body:
[T]he myth of Yom Kippur is problematic for many: Do we really believe in a "Book of Life" in which all our deeds are inscribed — even in a metaphorical way? Do we think that the unrepentant are punished?
The entire story of Yom Kippur — the sin, the forgiveness, the catharsis — is a psychological drama projected onto theology. All of us have done things that we regret. Yom Kippur is the day to release them. The point isn't whether you'll be good enough to be written in the right Book; it's about turning inward, looking at the dirty stuff and then being washed clean. This isn't about God judging us; it's about us judging, and finally loving, ourselves. The myth is secondary. The psychological drama is primary.
Speaking psychologically, teshuvah — return to one's deepest self — is not an intellectual process. It may make no sense to spend hours in synagogue banging one's heart with one's fist — but yearning, crying and begging are not meant to be sensible. Don't spend time worrying over the literal words of the Yom Kippur liturgy. The important thing is to do the practice of teshuvah, with your body leading and your heart following. Do the fast, the bowing, the banging-on-the-chest; do the standing, and notice as the body gets exhausted. Really, what is liturgy anyway but the verbal expressions of inchoate yearning? It's not theology, and it’s certainly not philosophy. It’s poetry.
— Jay Michaelson, Yom Kippur: A Personal Journey
And the second is by Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman; I found it over at his blog, Hitzei Yehonatan:
[W]hat is the purpose of fasting? On the one hand, fasting may be viewed — particularly by those influenced by modern rationalism and/or secular-humanistic ways of thinking — as no more than a catalyst for the really important tasks: ethical introspection, leading to moral reform, and ending in the individual recommitting himself to ethical behavior in the human world.... In this view, any fast which does not lead to inner change, to caring for those less fortunate than oneself, is seen as morally, spiritually, religiously, and ethically pointless.
On the other hand, there is a position which emphasizes a spiritual, even metaphysical dimension to fasting. By denying the body, one transcends one’s biological nature and attempts, so to speak, to live on a purely spiritual plane, like one of the angelic hosts. This is perceived as a valuable spiritual exercise in its own right...
Which one, then, is the correct path?
In the end, the high road of Judaism has always been the "unifying of opposites." Not to bifurcate purity–transcendence–God-relation vs. being in the world, ethical tikkun, etc., but to unify both. To be active in the world, in a way informed by purity and holiness.
— Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman, Yom Kippur - Months
May Yom Kippur open our hearts wide so that connection with our Source may bloom.