Seeking Awareness for Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is a time when per our tradition, Jews across the globe are asked to think and meditate on how their presence has impacted the world during the past year. It is a period for self-reflection. We ask ourselves hard questions. Awareness is essential. Are you being honest with yourself listening to the answers? Sometimes it can be hard. Do we really want to admit, even to ourselves, all of the occasions we’ve fallen short of the people whom we want to be?

Look in the mirror. Who are you? What do you hear when you listen to your thoughts? Are the judgements self-critical, critical of others, or uplifting? Do you hear a haranguing echo from your childhood, by perhaps a less-enlightened parent?

Are you — YOUR BEST FRIEND? I sincerely hope so. Too often, folks find it easier to be supportive and uplifting of others, and downright mean to themselves. If that’s you, take the time to do your work — clean out your emotional closet, and nurture yourself daily. Everyone deserves to be their own best friend.

If it’s more comfortable for you to think about others — wouldn’t you feel better and have more energy to do good, if you were your own cheerleader? How would the world benefit, if you were the best you could be…

Looking at how you function in life can be a celebration — look how far you’ve come. Not that we all don’t have more to work on, but today are you a better YOU, than you were yesterday? If not, you have the capacity to change. Life is a series of steps, not one — it’s a journey. Put one foot in front of the other and you’re on your way…

Know yourself. What do you enjoy doing? What drives you to distraction making you react like you are hearing nails scrape on a chalkboard? If everyone earned a living doing what they love, the quality of what’s offered throughout the globe would improve. Granted sometimes this is a luxury, but we have to be sure it’s a real constraint and not an assumed mandate. Our society would be much more productive and connected if its members were say, happy.

Another practice observed is asking those we’ve hurt for forgiveness. Wow, that’s a hard one for me, how about you? The other side of the coin is the realization that forgiving someone is actually a present you give yourself. Why do these seem so difficult? Intellectually I get it, yet the act too often evades me. Why do we hold steadfast to how others have wronged us like a badge of survival?

This is definitely something for which I need to put my big girl panties on and deal with…beginning with forgiving myself for this being difficult for me. So if for any reason during the course of my blogs, if I’ve somehow inadvertently hurt you, I am sincerely sorry and ask for your forgiveness. Writing this wasn’t hard, but face-to-face supplication can be a real challenge — at least this is a first step.

Last year, when my husband and I tried this with each other, I’d say our efforts were more like forgiveness-lite. This year I’m thinking it’s time to dig deeper.

The picture at the top of this post is a prayer from our Yom Kippur prayer book, “Mishkan Hanefesh, Machzor for the Days of Awe,” and is part of the Vidui Rabbah — The Long Confession. It’s a series of potential wrongs to contemplate as a community. Are we personally, or as a people guilty as charged? With fists clenched, we lightly thud on our chests and recite our confessions as a congregation…

We stand together this day to confess our sins —
But these moments are mine.
In the privacy of my heart, I acknowledge the wrongs I have done;
My thoughtless, careless heartless actions, and my failure to do what was right.

And then we reflect on the various transgressions we’ve inflicted such as:

  • The harm I have done to myself.
  • The harm I have done to my family and friends.
  • The harm I have done to the world around me, and
  • The harm I have done to the Jewish people.

Each category has quite a number of detailed screw ups.

For all of these failures of judgement and will — 
God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, lead us to atonement.

We ask for forgiveness from God, ourselves and others. Although I cringe as I look at what I actually have done, I’m glad there are a few I’ve left off my list.

One of our rabbi’s Rosh Hashana sermons spoke about how everyone looks at situations from their own perspective. Is your viewpoint a conscious one to which you’ve given thought? Or do you have it because that’s the way you’ve always looked at something, habituated, or perhaps that’s how you were raised? Can you see others’ perspectives, but because you disagree, regard theirs as inferior? Do you try to devalue their contrary opinions because it makes it inconvenient to move forward with your own agenda? Remember, you have a choice. Choose wisely.

I think it’s equally important to look at what you did right. Otherwise, how would know what to repeat?

I took an excerpt from the prayer called, “For Every Act of Goodness” also from our Yom Kippur prayer book…

Let us affirm the good we have done: let us acknowledge our acts of healing and repair…
For the good we have done by acting with self-restraint and self-control;
For the good we have done through acts of generosity and compassion;
For the good we have done by offering children our love and support;
For the good we have done by honoring our parents with care and respect;

And it continued, each line extolling a positive act of kindness…

All these have brought light and healing into the world.
May these acts inspire us to renew our efforts in the year to come.

Amen! I found it to be an uplifting reminder of how I want to act and be perceived.

Once you think about your individual actions and responsibilities, it’s good to examine how we as a people have acted, and ask questions — perhaps moving beyond, even to our secular communities. Admittedly, we have much more control over our own actions than as a group. But for groups to change, individuals have to first. We seem to be much more identified with what divides us than what unites us as a religion, people and nation.

After all of this deep thinking, you might want to take a break and have a snack, but that won’t work on Yom Kippur — Jews are expected to fast for 25 hours. Bodily needs are set aside for prayer and yes, it does make for a very long day.

Lots to think about during these ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and plenty more years to work on getting it right. That’s the goal — every day to do a little better. We’ll never be perfect, but keep striving to improve.

As humans, we change, we grow, we expand. What beautiful, multi-layered, sweet flower will you blossom into this year? G’mar Hatimah Tovah — May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a Good Year.

As always, I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…

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