Yom Kippur isn’t an easy day. Not because of the fasting. What isn’t easy is the affliction of the soul, the practice of going deeply into ourselves and revealing our innermost fears, doubts and insecurities in front of the Eternal. There is no more bargaining time left. No more time to negotiate with God, to present good deeds in mitigation of our sins in the hope that we will be dealt with compassionately to receive a ‘lighter’ sentence. This should have been done in the previous 10 days in particular, and in the weeks that preceded Rosh Hashanah. Everything we have
done, or not done, is already recorded and known in the heavenly court. On Yom Kippur, we are awaiting the final verdict, and we must stop playing games. We know we could have done better: we have sinned; we have transgressed.
There is no way out. The die has been cast, and the verdict is almost in. On Yom Kippur our fate will be decided. On Yom Kippur! On Yom Kippur we need to be honest with ourselves, and with God – and this is the painful exercise. The affliction of the soul hurts. There is no ‘waiver’ we can apply for to get away from this duty. Without exception, every one of us is standing before the Eternal, waiting for our fate to be decided upon.
But as a little piece from our liturgy indicates, Yom Kippur isn’t a sad day at all. It is a day full of hope and joy. God is a merciful God, full of loving kindness and grace. God grants forgiveness to all who honestly ask for it. “Va-Yomer Adonai: Salachti Ki’devareicha – And Adonai said: I have pardoned in response to your plea.”
This hope, or maybe certainty, does not come out of the blue. It is something that is deeply embedded in our relationship with the Eternal, in our unique covenant with God, throughout the history of our people. The hope of gaining God’s forgiveness from transgression and sin goes way back to the story of the Golden Calf.
Pardoning its people is God’s response to Moshe‘s plea for forgiveness, and thus it is the basis we use to ask for atonement on Yom Kippur. The affliction of our souls might be painful, but the knowledge that God is with us and is granting forgiveness is what turns Yom Kippur into a day of hope, and not a day of pain; in a day of partnership, a day where we renew our covenant with God.
May you all be sealed in the book of life, rewarded for your honesty towards yourself and towards God. May you gain strength from Yom Kippur to master the tasks that await you in the coming year. May you feel God’s Presence within you always, and never lose faith and trust in God and his people. Gmar chatima tova!
—Rabbi Adrian M Schell