Yom Kippur is The Day of Atonement, most important holiday in the Jewish Calendar. It means you atone for your faults in front of others and God so that you can have a clean slate. It is a way to relieve your guild and any thoughts and faults that might be on your mind that may slow you down or weight you down to have the best possible year. It is a sort of reset on your relationships with your friends, family, community and of course, those who believe in God, with God. It is about asking for forgiveness and giving forgiveness because it is as much about getting rid of the guilt as it is of getting rid of the hate.
Yom Kippur begins by asking explicit forgiveness for any wrongs from friends and family and anyone else who you may have offended including co-workers, business partners, neighbors and anyone else. The sins include being selfish, dishonesty, arrogance and the list goes on. It is also about giving forgiveness and letting go of hate towards those who wronged you.
You then go to the Synagogue and pray for forgiveness from God. However, there is a prayer during Yom Kippur at night, it is called the Kol Nidrei where you pray to God that you absolve yourself of all promises before God and the world. It seems crazy to do so but then you realize that we often make really bad promises and especially back then people made horrible promises. Back then, debts were never big and so on this day they were absolved. On this day if you had promised to kill someone, you were able to back out gracefully.
As I sat at the synagogue thinking these things I realized that Jews are a special people but not for any other reason other than the fact that we make ourselves special and by in addition to that we give ourselves a very big standard to live by. Because we set the bar high, others set a high standard for us to live by as well. When people don’t like Jewish people, it is usually because we as Jews have not been watching over our ourselves as well as our community enough. When I looked at communities that thrived and those that withered, big differences were not just what Jews did but how they perceived themselves and how they interacted. One big thing that contributes to hate of course is how much freedom that place had to begin with and if there wasn’t a lot then there was tough life for everyone and people in that country hated everyone, not just Jews. Think of United States prior to 1970s, when it was a racist place, a mean place and so of course Jews were ill treated because the place was not conducive to love. Same with Russia today, the tough life and lack of freedom makes it such that many people hate Jews but they hate everyone there because life is terrible for everyone.
So when Jews are attempting to ask forgiveness for the wrongs as they do on Yom Kippur eve and ask forgiveness on behalf of all Jews they also ask forgiveness for not doing their best to repair the world. In middle east the mentality of many Jews is that Arabs are subhuman because hate Jews but how should they treat us if we think of them that way? How will they rise and change their thoughts of Jews if we do no give them a standard to be better. How will we act towards those who hate this year? After all, no person who hates comes from a good place and no person who hates ends up in a good place. So this year, we ought to ask for forgiveness for our anger at those who hate us and have compassion for them for they like us make mistakes.
And so whatever hateful things others have done to us, and however we want to avenge those actions, we must recite kol nidrei and give ourselves that opportunity to take back those words and release the hate in order to allow for love to come in and repair what was broken.
There is a quote I took with me from the Beth El synagogue last night that Rabbi Avi gave. It said to be careful with an old person who may not be as whole as they used to, because the broken commandments were placed alongside the whole commandments in the ark. And of course you can take that to think about the parallel of how we toss out things today, destroying the earth. You can think of it about the seniors in the workplace and the difficulty they have finding jobs and surviving. You can think of a lot of things but what I thought was that here was Moses, who was discarded as a child was saved by the royal family to then be discarded by the royal family to then accept himself into the slaves which for someone living in royalty must have been nearly impossible as it probably was for them( Jews) impossible to accept him. He then had to go against his own brother for the sake of his people who may or may not have accepted him. And as he led them out to the desert, to a place he did not know, having belief in god alone, he walked with them for forty years and at some point God realized that these people are far from perfect, He realized that these people need rules. So Moses went up the hill and came down with the perfect (for that time) rules and came down and saw the imperfect people and he broke the perfect tablets and he condemned his people and he realized that he made a mistake. These imperfect people is the reason for the commandments. And then, God for the first time makes a mistake, because even god forgets that these people are imperfect, God wants to kill the Jews and it is now Moses that stops him and keeps God to the first promise and makes God break his own word, and reminds God why even though these people are imperfect, he should keep them. That is when we see, that people were made in an image of God for even the maker is imperfect. And so Moses moseys up the mountain and makes another set of tablets and keeps the broken ones, to remind us that we are not perfect, that at one point we were so bad that Moses broke the tablets not believing that we Jews could ever live up to them. But it is our worst that we can look back on, learn from and then move forward to be worthy of the commandments. It is the worst in us that we cannot throw away as without it we cannot attain the best in us.
As I thought these things, I then thought of the hundred or so people around me. How many people I now know, how many San Diego Jews I am connected to a year later. How much more I am involved in the Jewish community and how I have a little bit of Israel in San Diego now compared to a year ago. I feel more whole now, I feel better around all people, not just Jews for I have nothing to prove, nothing to worry about. I know where I stand and my friends of all backgrounds know where I stand. I found myself amazed that for all my talk of not being Jewish, I felt most Jewish in the synagogue because it is here that I can attain that best self, it is here for me that I can think about being better and work on myself along with others who will help me to be better and here I can help others be better. For the first time I realized that for a Jew, religion is essential because it is the religion that allows us to be best. We are a learned intelligent people. Intelligence and knowledge are a huge responsibility and unguided can do much damage. It is for this reason that Jews created the religion, it is for this reason a Jew needs religion and it is for this reason that those who grow up without religion, can succumb to the worst and when they identify as Jewish, they give the wrong idea to the whole world of what Jewish people stand for.
It was in this reform synagogue, where I was thinking these thoughts among men and women, in suits and flip-flops with a male Rabbi, a female Chazan and a young man on a keyboard. Here I thought that it doesn’t matter what kind of synagogue we are in, the lessons are the same. I hadn’t liked Reform movements before, not that I thought it was bad, I just felt somehow not entirely comfortable. They seemed to lack a certain soul. But on this Yom Kippur I realized that we need the reform synagogue because we are a different place. The Israel 2000 years ago didn’t have plumbing and electricity that needed 24 hour support. To follow old rules blindly would destroy the society that the commandments were built to uphold. But we can take tradition, we can take the broken commandments and apply the lessons to the new life, to care for each-other to do what is best and to make a better world.
Ask for forgiveness, but first let’s forgive ourselves and then forgive everyone, no matter how they make us feel. For doing that is the ultimate freedom, and that is the real reason why Moses took us out of Egypt.
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