Sometimes when teaching a session in our local “Intro to Judaism” class (offered twice a year), I ask the students, “What is the most important day in the Jewish calendar?” Some students will say “Yom Kippur,” though another appropriate response is “Shabbat.” This weekend, both of these important holidays fall on the same day.
It’s actually fairly common for the Day of Atonement to fall on Shabbat. In fact, over the past 1,000 years, it’s happened 319 times (that’s 31.9%) but it’s obviously an important occurrence no matter how many times these two days coincide. In the book of Leviticus (16:31 and 23:32), Yom Kippur is referred to as “Shabbat Shabbaton – the Sabbath of Sabbaths.” I hope every Jew is able to observe this most important day in a way that is most meaningful to him or her.
In addition to the services you might expect on Yom Kippur, Temple Israel offers a variety of experiences, including a Healing Service, a Creative Service and a Social Justice Hour. We recognize that people honor their Jewish identity and heritage in different ways. This pluralistic and inclusive approach is a strength of our congregation and our movement.
The Union for Reform Judaism also offers a variety of experiences and reflections, whether you are interested in the ritual, ethical or social justice aspects of the day. Concerning its ritual aspects, Leviticus 16:31 says that Yom Kippur should be a day of complete rest, but adds that “you shall practice self-denial.” Since it falls on a Saturday this year, it should be easier to refrain from work but if you wonder how and why one practices self-denial (like fasting), here’s a nice piece by Jane Herman, a senior writer and editor for the URJ.
If you struggle with traditional prayers, one young man writes about how he is able to understand the Un’taneh Tokef prayer on an emotional level that calls forth an ethical response. Jonah Baskin was only 9 years old when I took my boys out west on a vacation in 2004 and we stayed with his family in Denver. Today, he is working as a legislative assistant at the URJ’s Religious Action Center! He recently posted this thoughtful reflection on the prayer.
From the perspective of social justice, we can draw inspiration from the Haftarah for Yom Kippur morning. In chapter 58 of Isaiah, the prophet intended his words to inspire those who returned from the Babylonian exile to repair the fallen walls within the city of Jerusalem which had been destroyed. Rabbi Fred Guttman posted this moving interpretation in which he points out that there are still many “walls” in need of repair.
The many aspects and messages of Yom Kippur should not overshadow the deeply personal and relational meanings it can have for each and every one of us. Perhaps most importantly, we should apologize to those we have harmed or offended in any way and forgive those who may have harmed or offended us. With a clean slate before us, may this “Sabbath of Sabbaths” bring with it the promise that 5778 will be a “Year of Years” – that is to say, a year that is just as special (if not more so) than those that have come before.
With blessings and gratitude, this is my “message of messages” to you – having been INSCRIBED in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah, may your good fortune be SEALED in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur.
That is to say, “G’mar Chatimah Tovah!”
R’ Moshe Tom