Archive for Saturday, October 4, 2008

Faith Forum: What does Yom Kippur mean to you?

October 4, 2008


Period of atonement not somber affair

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St.:

In just a few days, Jewish communities around the globe will be celebrating Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. In Jewish tradition, this day is the holiest day of the year - the day on which we are closest to God and to the quintessence of our own souls. The day is the most solemn of the year, yet an undertone of joy suffuses it. A joy that revels in the spirituality of the day and expresses the confidence that God will accept our repentance, forgive our sins and seal our verdict for a year of life, health and happiness.

Sometimes I wonder that the day of Yom Kippur can be quite depressing. Why spend a day focusing on our sins and failures? Do we need to be reminded how far we are from being perfect?

In truth however, Yom Kippur is a celebration of being human. And being human means being imperfect.

Human failure is so predictable, God has placed on the calendar an annual day of forgiveness. It is not an optional holiday only for those who happen to have sinned. Yom Kippur comes every single year for every single person. It is as if we are expected to sin, that there will always be mess-ups that we have to make amends for. God is so not surprised by our failings that he allows a cleanup day every year. We were never meant to be perfect.

For all of us who are not perfect, Yom Kippur is our day. Rather than be depressed by failings, we celebrate them. Every sin, every slipup, every failed attempt at living up to our calling is another opportunity to grow and improve. Failing at our mission is itself a part of the mission.

Yom Kippur is the day God thanks us for being human, and we thank God that we aren't perfect. If we were, we'd have nothing to do.

- Special thanks to my colleague Aron Moss for his assistance in formulating this response. Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel can be reached at

Fasting, prayer inspires reflection

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher of the Kansas Zen Center and a member of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center:

Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, the day on which, we are told, God seals the book of life, deciding who will live and who will die. In 24 hours of fasting and prayer, Jews look hard at their lives. We confess all our wrongdoings. We face our mortality. We plead with God for mercy and compassion. We are exhorted to repentance, prayer and good deeds. And we do this as a community - even the confessional is communal, because we are all responsible for one another. The fast is severe - no food, not even water, for over 24 hours. The atmosphere is intense - 10 to 15 hours of services from one sundown to the next, with repeated confessionals and repeated reminders of mortality and our basic human helplessness.

Does this sound gloomy? It's not. Even as a child I loved it. I decided to fast when I was 9 (too young by Jewish law); my grandmother, panicked by my piety, broke all the rules by smuggling rugelach pastries into the synagogue to tempt me. During the years I avoided services, I still observed Yom Kippur. I always fasted. Some years I found a synagogue; some years I hiked in the mountains. I've always taken Yom Kippur very seriously.

Yom Kippur brings relief from the denial we live in most of the time. On Yom Kippur we fully acknowledge death, helplessness, frailty, and, most important, our tremendous capacity for good. Focusing our minds in prayer and our bodies in fasting for so many hours gives us direct evidence that yes, we can live lives of goodness and wholeness. Tikkun olam - repairing the world - is possible.

- Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at


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