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 to pray for forgiveness for any wrongs we have committed towards G-d. 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. This year that prayer, along with the line in the Avinu Malkenu prayer: אבינו מלכנו, מנע מגפה מנחלתך- Our father, our King, prevent a plague among Your inheritance, will be recited with extra favour.
In pre-corona days, we would attend services with day-long prayers, composed of beautiful, spiritual and emotional prayers and songs, being held in shuls and community centers throughout the Jewish world. This year all that has changed. In many countries shuls have been closed altogether. In Israel, while shuls were closed from this last Shabbat (yesterday), a special dispensation has been made for Yom Kippur. Small groups of 20-30 people are allowed indoors, and groups of 20 are allowed outdoors, with partitions between each group as long as social distancing can be maintained. Yesterday, because shuls have been closed, we all prayed outdoors as we have been doing since April.
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.
This year we don’t need Yom Kippur to halt the traffic as a complete lockdown has been imposed on the country to the huge rise in coronavirus infection rate.
This year we will have no problem praying with extra intensity and devotion, even though we will be sweltering outdoors in an oncoming heatwave of 35°C.
My younger brother wrote a great post on Facebook which I am reposting here with his permission. While he generalizes somewhat (not all the protestors, not all the haredim, not all the judges…), he expresses my feelings, and those of so many people I know.
I wonder if this would happen. ….G-d comes down to Israel on Yom Kippur eve to look at how preparations are going for the holiest day of the year.He goes to Balfour square, and sees crowds of people singing, dancing and chanting, and thinks oh they are preparing well. But as he gets closer, he sees that they are driven by hate. Hate for their leader, hate for the system, hate for religeous ppl, and hate for their brothers. He says to their leaders… Listen, i brought corona virus upon you to show how a meaningless virus can turn your life inside out, and show u how to be good to your neighbours and care for one another. Instead u have turned it to hate and disgust. G-d shakes his head, and moves on.He then travels to Bnei Barak, to see how the ultra orthodox are doing. He sees them packed into yeshivot and kolellim attempting to serve Him, but none have listened to the medical rules and are infecting one another. He goes to their leaders and says, i brought the corona virus unto you, so that you could do further introspection, have respect for one and another, and also for the authorities of the land. But like before, you refuse to do your part. You are willing to take money from the state, but refuse to give back to the state. You dont even listen to the most basic of instructions, and you transgress my commandment of ‘you shall keep your soul safe’. G-d shakes his head and moves on.He next travels to the newsrooms of Channel 12 and 13. He sees then preparing reports. He ask the editors, what are you doing? Oh we are preparing a report of how bad the government is (especially its leader Bibi) and how bad the land of Israel is to its residents. Wow, say G-d did you guys learn from the spies of Israel in the bible ? The last time they complained like that, i made them wander around the desert for 40 years in order to get their head straight. G-d shakes his head in and moves on.He goes to the houses of Ester Hayut and Avihai Mandleblit. These are judges and honorable people he thinks, maybe they will know how to serve me correctly. But then He starts reading their judgements and sees how askewed they are from real justice. He says, You judges and lawyers have totally made a joke of the word ‘justice’, you have bent every rule to suit your whims. G-d shakes his head and moves on.He then comes to us, the people of Israel and says how are you guys preparing for the holiest day ?Ah we say, we are discussing how to serve you best, how to pray whilst keeping this virus at bay. We are looking at how we can help each other, helping the sick and helping poor. We are looking at how to make the world a better place. Mostly we are looking at ourselves and how we can become better people and have less hatred for one another and have less finger pointing.Phew, says G-d, i almost gave up on my people. G-d sends them a loving smile and says ‘I am looking forward to hearing your prayers so that I can answer them, but look out for your bretheren who have fallen, they need help getting up’.Wishing all of Am Yisrael, a gmar hatima tova, and a healthy 5781.
May Mark’s wishes and prayers be accepted along with all of ours.
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