Yesterday’s dreadful news about the murder of Ari Fuld has knocked us sideways and breathless. But we cannot stop the clock nor turn it back, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is upon us once again. It begins 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.
With great timing for Yom Kippur, Lenny Ben-David of the Israel Daily Picture website published a couple of very old pictures of the prayers at the Kotel on Yom Kippur c. 1905.
Lenny wondered why none of the men seem to be wearing their tallit (prayer shawl) as is customary on Yom Kippur. Another tweeter responded:
No kind of furniture was allowed, not even folding chairs for elderly women. This rule continued to be enforced by the British Mandatory police.
Isn’t it horrifying that the anti-Jewish practices followed by the Ottomans, enforced by the British, are still in place today on the Temple Mount? This time they are followed by the Muslim Waqf and enforced by no other than the Israeli Police.
We certainly have a lot to atone for in that we have not managed to get rid of these bigoted anti-Jewish laws in over 100 years when we ostensibly have sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
I’d like to bring you something more uplifting to soothe our spirit as we move into this most solemn of days. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brings us ten ideas to help us focus our prayers:
As we approach #YomKippur, the holy of holies of Jewish time, here are ten ideas which might help you focus your prayers and ensure you have a meaningful and life-changing experience.
1. Life is short. However much life expectancy has risen, we will not, in one lifetime, be able to achieve everything we might wish to achieve. This life is all we have. How shall we use it well?
2. Life itself, every breath we take, is the gift of God. Life is not something we may take for granted. If we do, we will fail to celebrate it. Yes, we believe in life after death, but it is in life before death that we truly find human greatness.
3. We are free. Judaism is the religion of the free human being freely responding to the God of freedom. We are not in the grip of sin. The very fact that we can do teshuva, that we can act differently tomorrow than we did yesterday, tells us we are free.
4. Life is meaningful. We are not mere accidents of matter, generated by a universe that came into being for no reason and will one day, for no reason, cease to be. We are here because a loving God brought the universe, and life, and us, into existence.
5. Life is not easy. Judaism does not see the world through rose-tinted lenses. The world we live in is not the world as it ought to be. That is why, despite every temptation, Judaism has never been able to say the messianic age has come, even though we await it daily.
6. Life may be hard, but it can still be sweet. Jews have never needed wealth to be rich, or power to be strong. To be a Jew is to live for the simple things: love, family, community. Life is sweet when touched by the Divine.
7. Our life is the single greatest work of art we will ever make. On the Yamim Noraim we step back from our life like an artist stepping back from his canvas, seeing what needs changing for the painting to be complete.
8. We are what we are because of those who came before us. We are each a letter in God’s book of life. We do not start with nothing. We have inherited wealth, not material but spiritual. We are heirs to our ancestors’ greatness.
9. We are heirs to another kind of greatness: Torah and the Jewish way of life. Judaism asks great things of us and by doing so makes us great. We walk as tall as the ideals for which we live, and though we may fall short time and again, the Yamim Noraim allow us to begin anew.
10. The sound of heartfelt prayer, together with the piercing sound of the shofar, tell us that that is all life is – a mere breath – yet breath is nothing less than the spirit of God within us. We are dust of the earth but within us is the breath of God.
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 and sealed in the Book of Life.
גמר חתימה טובה