Holiday Reflections: Yom Kippur

| September 23, 2009

The Holiday:
Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Taking place on the 10th of Tishrei (the seventh month) in the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year.  During Yom Kippur, we face God – and ourselves – as we are called to account for our sins during the year just ended. Yom Kippur represents the climax of a period of intensive soul-searching that begins with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), and during which we examine past actions and commit to future improvements. Yom Kippur demands that we atone for our past misdeeds, and that we ask forgiveness from those we have wronged.

On Yom Kippur, we refrain from indulging in a number of life’s basic pleasures, including eating and drinking, bathing and engaging in sexual relations.  By afflicting ourselves in this way, we are better able to understand what is at stake during the holiday:  nothing less than God’s willingness to accept our repentance and grant us another year of life, health and happiness.

Yom Kippur ends with the Ne’illah prayer service, which represents the symbolic closing of the gates of Heaven and indicates that the time for supplications has passed.  A single shofar (ram’s horn) blast tells us that, with the slate of previous transgressions wiped clean, we must now embrace the New Year and its infinite possibilities.
For Discussion – Our modern-day challenge:
Often during Yom Kippur, we think about the ways in which we might have offended colleagues, friends, family members and other individuals.  But our thoughtlessness often extends to our global community – both our natural environment, and the billions of people, around the world, with whom we share it.  What might be an appropriate way to seek their forgiveness?  How can we translate past wrongs into productive future activity that respects human life and strengthens global prosperity?

How do the sins we commit enable us to learn and grow?  Why is this growth important in terms of our ability to effect change in our own lives?  What is the connection between personal growth and community empowerment?
Activities for Advocates:
Yom Kippur is characterized by daylong prayer, repentance and study.  Consider enhancing your community’s observance by adding a study session tackling the issue of global poverty and our obligation to play a role in ending it.  Encourage attendees to see this activism as a way for them to atone, on a global scale, for the injustice that plagues so many societies.

Give a sermon or other meditation that weaves together themes of repentance and renewal with a discussion about how – and why –Yom Kippur encourages our active involvement with the world around us.

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