Yom Kippur isn’t an easy day

Chaverim—Friends,

 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

 

A holy chutzpah – reflections on Yom Kippur and Sukkot

According to the Jewish tradition, the period of repentance continues after Yom Kippur until the end of Sukkot. These days may continue to be an opportunity for reflection, but these final days of the holidays are days of celebration. Though none of us know what our fates hold for us, we act as if the process of Yom Kippur granted us atonement. We can begin our year feeling refreshed and renewed. Though many disagreements and injuries take more than a holiday to make up for, the holidays are ideally, a time to successfully reflect on our goals for the year to help us face new challenges with confidence.

During the month of Tishrei, we bring together two seemingly contradictory emotions: humility and chutzpah. On the one hand we humble ourselves: throughout the season, we go through the long process of self-reflection that leads us to teshuvah—repentance. On Rosh Hashanah, we imagine God as the ruler of the universe and evoke a sense of awe as we stand before God. On Yom Kippur, we publicly confess our communal sins and afflict ourselves to show that we recognise our collective responsibility. And on Sukkot we make ourselves vulnerable to the elements by leaving our houses to dwell in the sukkah.

As hard as we try, though, these attempts at humility depend on a stronger sense of chutzpah. Throughout the festivals, we assume that we will receive forgiveness. Throughout the liturgy of the High Holidays, we constantly recite verses and invoke stories where God forgives Israel. We constantly remind God about the desire to see each and every person achieve a state of atonement, and the way that God’s nature is to be compassionate.

When we invoke this, we express the assumption that God will forgive us. Our Torah is a testament to God’s forgiving nature, but also teaches us that forgiveness must be active. A holy chutzpah backs our liturgy and prayers, but our acts and deeds must reflect them, otherwise our chutzpah is nothing else than cockiness.

Wishing you a meaningful Yom Kippur and a joyful Sukkot and Simchat Torah

Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: R’ Philip Gibbs)

Please remember that we will celebrate the Festival Morning Service of Sukkot (5 October) at Beit Emanuel (38 Oxford Rd., Parktown) at 09h30. All other services will be held in our new Shul.

Blessing over the Arba Minim (Four Species)
One of the commandments of Sukkot is to take the arba minim (four species) and wave them each day of the holiday (traditionally not on Shabbat). This is normally done during morning services in synagogue, before the Hallel prayers, but you can do it also at home anytime during the day . Both customs are common and acceptable. Stand facing the north (or whatever direction Jerusalem is from where you are).
Take the etrog in your left hand with the stem (green tip) up and the pitam (brown tip) down. Take the lulav (including the palm, myrtle and willow branches bound together) in your right hand. Bring your hands together and recite the blessing below.
After you recite the blessing, turn the etrog so the stem is down and the pitam is up. Be careful not to damage the pitam! With the lulav and etrog together, gently shake forward (north) three times, then pull the lulav and etrog back in front of your chest. Repeat this to the right (east), then over your right shoulder (south), then to the left (west), then up, then down.
Chag Sameach!
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe
asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
al n’tilat lulav (Amen)
to take up the lulav (Amen)

Yom Kippur: A day of hope

And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls [teannu et nafshoteichem]; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before Adonai. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you afflict your soul [ve-innitem et nafshoteichem]; it is a law for all time. (Leviticus 16:29–31)

Yom Kippur isn’t an easy day. Not because of we are fasting. I agree, fasting is one of the duties of today, as commanded in the Torah, but fasting in itself only needs a bit of physical strength. If, God forbid, we are ill, or get sick, we are even commanded to break our fast.
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