I used to hate Yom Kippur. Every year, as we blew the shofar and rushed home to eat, I would secretly breathe a huge sigh of relief. It was finally over – all the misery, the moroseness, the fear – until next year. And as Passover would pass, I would start counting down to the dreaded day which was hovering just beyond the horizon.
I hated Yom Kippur because it made me feel like a fraud. I would bang away at my chest all day, enumerating all my sins, promising I was repentant. But in my heart I knew that I would return to my mean self the moment the fast was over. I didn’t believe I could ever change, that I was really worthy of life and that I would ever be able to redeem myself. So I would go through the day anxious for it to be over, hating myself for being such a big, fat fraud.
But this year has been different. In some obscure way, I am looking forward to Yom Kippur. I didn’t prepare as I "should have" – I didn't have/make/find/create the time to do a thorough spiritual accounting and reflection. I procrastinated and didn’t take advantage of the power of the 10 Days of Teshuva. But somehow I didn't dread the day. Why not? Over the past year there have been many blessings in my life. And I’ve been more proactive than ever before. I still feel guilty for the many hours I waste, but I have definitely been more productive with my time. I read more, shop less, and still sleep too much.
But more significantly, I have seen real glimpses of my own glory. I have seen moments of myself which are compassionate, capable and powerful. I have seen myself being a supportive friend, a loving wife and an open soul. I have seen myself connecting with people in their frailty and fragmentation, soul to soul. I have pushed my own boundaries of what I thought was possible; relationships which I had written off have been rekindled, tasks which I deemed myself incapable of were conquered.
And I have seen my smallness, too. I have seen my propensity to be critical, cold and judgmental. I have seen my ability to be harsh and cruel. And I have seen the pain I have inflicted on others and myself in these states – the sadness, the depression, the hostility. I have seen my lethargy, my disconnection and my self-pity.
But this year, my darkness is juxtaposed with my light. I realize that change is actually possible. I am not doomed to isolation, meanness and small mindedness.
This Yom Kippur, I can feel the pain of not being in a state of connection and own the consequences of my choices. I can say to God, “This is not me,” and mean it. I feel repentant, not from fear – but from a genuine desire for connection, love and transcendence. Getting in touch with my higher self that yearns to be good has enabled me to sense the sadness of my past choices.
The Talmud teaches that on Yom Kippur we are compared to angels. I never really got the comparison. Until now. On Yom Kippur all the daily responsibilities and tasks are removed; it’s a day we transcend the physical and live with total purpose. It’s a day with one sole mission, like an angel, to pray, to think and to connect – to God and to our inner soul.
And with that comes a sense of freedom and serenity, a sense of joy that comes when fulfilling your deepest purpose.
And there is joy because no matter how far and disconnected we are, we can return. No matter how many layers we have shrouded ourselves, how much anger we are consumed in – we are not stuck. There is still a second act.
I am excited for the upcoming year, hopeful for the growth which awaits, and look forward to celebrating the reestablished love and connection during Sukkot.