May We be Sealed in the Book of Life!
(from the Yom Kippur prayer service)
Tishrei 9, 5774/October 3, 2014
A Yom Kippur Message from Rabbi Chaim Richman,
International Director of the Temple Institute
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year, and man’s closest brush with the Divine. On this day, with sincere repentance and resolution for the future, we can merit a whole new beginning. The experience of standing before our Creator on this potent day is absolutely awesome. “For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins before Hashem you shall be cleansed”(Lev. 16:30). On this day, the judgment of every individual, every nation, indeed of the whole world, is sealed. But before it is sealed, we can still change the decree, such is the unparalleled power of repentance.
This is our chance to make things right; to come clean, to make amends and mean it. But sincere and heartfelt repentance does not come easy; our task on this day requires intense inner honesty and recognition. True repentance is based on sincere remorse, admitting mistakes, confronting ourselves and resolving to change. The potential of this day is so great that it can become a life-altering experience. But the real proof of whether we will have achieved anything will be yet to come: when confronted with the same situation again we will have the opportunity to demonstrate whether we have changed, or whether we have merely gone through the motions.
In the time of the Holy Temple, when the people standing in the Temple court, hear the ineffable Name of G-d uttered by the High Priest, they fall on their faces and prostrate themselves completely, totally overwhelmed by the reality of His presence in their lives. Yet despite the awe-inspiring nature of the day which lends it an almost surreal quality, at the same time Yom Kippur is the most joyous day of the year as well. In the Holy Temple that joy is palpable. Our sages teach that on Yom Kippur and Tu’ B’Av, the 15th of the month of Av, the daughters of Jerusalem would dance in circles in the fields, reflecting the concept of love and unity.
What is the source of this great joy? It is nothing less than the revelation of the true nature of our relationship with G-d . Everybody knows how essential it is to believe in G-d . But who knew that G-d also believes in us?
In the book of Lamentations (Chapter 3) we find the verses, “The L-rd’s kindness surely has not ended, nor are His mercies exhausted. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! Hashem is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.”
What is meant by the words, ‘great is Your faithfulness?’ Shouldn’t it read, ‘great is my faithfulness?’ What does G-d’s faithfulness refer to – His faith in Himself?
G-d has faith in man, His creation, to choose good over evil. He has faith that our goodness will prevail. He has faith that we will justify and validate our creation. But we also have to have faith in ourselves.
Yom Kippur requires not only faith that G-d forgives us. It also requires us to forgive ourselves; to reassert our faith in ourselves, just as G-d has faith in us.
In 1817 the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’ He suggested that if a writer could infuse “a human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. In other words, it’s possible to ‘suspend,’ or put aside, the fact that you really don’t believe that this could be happening.
Can this really be happening? Will G-d really forgive us; will we forgive each other – and ourselves? Can we suspend our belief in our own failure and inadequacy long enough to reconnect with who we really are… who we really could be… who we really want to be? Can we suspend our disbelief in ourselves, our disbelief in humanity, long enough – just for this one day – to put aside the lenses of jaded vision through which we view ourselves and one another, and take a chance on a new beginning?
The transformation that takes place on Yom Kippur, the Divine embrace that holds us on this day, requires us to believe it is possible for us to change, from this moment on, forever. That’s G-d’s promise of Yom Kippur: It’s never too late to begin life anew.
May we blessed with newness, forgiveness, and belief. May we be sealed in the Book of Life for a Good and Sweet New Year!
Shalom from Jerusalem!
Rabbi Chaim Richman