Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is upon us once again, beginning in a few hours time here in Israel, when we will be entering a 25-hour fast with day-long prayer services, composed of beautiful, spiritual and emotional prayers and songs, being held in shuls and community centers throughout the Jewish world. It is a day when we must ask forgiveness from our fellow man if we have wronged them, forgive those who have wronged us if they ask to be forgiven, and pray that Hashem will seal us in the Book of Life.
In Israel, traffic comes to a complete halt throughout the country, even in the most secular towns, and a serene and holy calmness pervades throughout the land. Even the international airport and public transport close down for the day, starting from a few hours before the fast until an hour or so after the fast ends.
You can read more about Yom Kippur at Aish.com who have a great Yom Kippur info-graphic.
Sadly the serenity and holiness of the day will be challenged davka in Jerusalem where tensions are still running high and security has been heightened:
Israeli Jews prepared Tuesday morning for the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur amid increased tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, following days of Palestinian rioting centered on the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque located within.
Police and the military were on high alert ahead of the 25-hour fast, during which most of the country will shut down and roads will empty.
Thousands of policemen will be spread throughout Jerusalem during the holiday to keep the peace.
The Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, another possible flashpoint, will start on Wednesday evening, just as the Jewish fast ends.
But let us not dwell too long on the depressing news. Here is something more uplifting to prepare us for the holy day. Rabbi Raymond Apple writes in his column Oz Torah about the meaning of Kol Nidre:
Nothing rivals the awe and splendour of Kol Nidrei night. Nothing rivals the Kol Nidrei melody. But nothing explains the apparent banality of the Kol Nidrei words.
The explanation needs us to acknowledge how often the prayer book appeals to God and says, “May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable before You” (Psalm 19:15). We don’t seem to notice that the verse equates the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts, implying they are in agreement.
The reality is that there is often a gap. We mean one thing and say another; we say one thing and mean something else. Every Yom Kippur we make a private resolve,
“God, this year I’m going to tidy up my life” – but our hearts say something else, “No I’m not: I like me just as I am and I have no real intention to change anything”.
Enter Kol Nidrei:
“God, make my words match my thoughts, and if I mouth words which I don’t really mean, tell me to stop all the nonsense. Don’t look at my vows; look at my heart. Don’t hold me to empty vows; teach me not to promise things I can’t or won’t do; forgive me for the words which I am unlikely to fulfil…”
He brings us this beautiful rendering of Kol Nidre by Chazan (Cantor) Avraham Feintuch:
In the spirit of the day, I would like to ask forgiveness from anyone whom I might have offended or hurt.
To those who are fasting I wish an easy and meaningful fast.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish my family, friends and readers Gmar Hatima Tova – May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
גמר חתימה טובה