Rabbi Mel Gottlieb’s 5780 Yom Kippur Message

Building Unity

At this time of the year, we move through the ten days of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur. Our tradition teaches that it is an auspicious time that gives us the opportunity to reflect on where we stand in the world, and the conditions that we are responsible to repair. We are grateful for all the gifts that we have received and aware of the dark places that need to be repaired. Yom Kippur is a day of reflection calling us back to be serious about our stay here on earth and also to awaken us to the universal truths that must be honored in order to create a just and unified world.

Our Prophets teach about a world that will move one day to an era of reconciliation and harmony, beginning with oneself, and spread to all nations, even including the natural world, suggesting that all creation is evolving toward the unitive state. Any sensitive person can appreciate the grandeur of this process. Just observe a hive of bees at work, or walk through a forest, or live with a kind person, and you cannot but be profoundly moved by the way every aspect of creation can work with all the rest as a unit in perfect harmony. This truth has far-reaching implications in our daily life. On the one hand, every time we violate the unity of life by venting our anger on those around us, or by harming our fellow creatures we work against this evolution; on the other hand, every time we forgive others, do what benefits them, or alleviate the distress of any creature, we contribute towards this evolution.

There is nothing more important in life than learning to express this unity in all our relationships. With our family and friends, with our colleagues and fellow workers, with other communities and countries, and with other races and religious groups. The terrible consequences of disunity are plain for all to see. Violence, war, pollution, estrangement and insensitivity to our fellow creatures are external manifestations of the disunity seething in our consciousness. Because we live on the surface level of life, we are often unaware of the anger and fear burning deep within us.

How can we begin to return to the higher perception of potential unity within our world? As long as we have not seen someone who has conquered all that is self-willed in himself or herself, we find it hard to believe that we can overcome our separateness, and awake to the unity of life. But even one person standing against oppression, violence and greed, (whether it is in the home, in the community, or between nations), can become a source of inspiration for everyone who comes into contact with him or her. The words from our Scripture are not just to remain on the written page, but the man or woman who practices its wonderful teachings will give constant strength and inspiration to those who seek to turn judgment into compassion, fear into courage, and selfishness into kindness, in the joy of the whole.

Because we see often see the world through the eyes of skepticism and separateness, we think of ourselves as frail, fragmented creatures, with hardly any strength to stand up in life, and make our contribution. But a shift in consciousness, as a result of witnessing others’ examples, of perceiving the grandeur of nature, of trees and oceans, of an uplifting symphony, of the inspirational words of our poets and sages, can begin to arouse our souls to a higher level of perception.

This arousal, however, takes continuous attention to insure continuity. For living in a tension filled world, there are few of us who do not harbor some form of resentment and anger toward others, and toward ourselves. Before we heal the world, we must begin the task of healing ourselves. So we must utilize daily self-reflection to deal with our feelings and create reconciliation with ourselves, others and G-d, some sense of achieved forgiveness. This is the season which reminds us of G-d’s love for us, and asks us to return to the callings of the soul, to Unity which is hardwired into creation. We are told by the sages that when we even BEGIN this process of reconciliation with ourselves and others we are forgiven, and transformed; we can then begin to accept ourselves and love ourselves because we are loved once more. Being forgiven, and being able to accept oneself are one and the same thing. So may the power and sincerity of our prayers, awaken us out of our slumber and call us to this higher calling of unity, to self-forgiveness, and to our duties to all humankind, to the meaning of life, and toward the knowledge that we are all inextricably bound together in unity. May this year be, indeed, one in which all nations and religions march together toward a new consciousness, and the concretization of these perceptions into loving actions that will heal injustice, oppression, and pain and transform the world into the unified essence it is meant to be.

G’mar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Ph.D.
President, AJRCA

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