Toward Shabbat. From Shabbat Shuva to Yom Kippur, A Day of Joy!

Dear Friends,

“Ki Vayom Hazeh Yichaper Aleichem L’Taher Etchem Mikol Chatocheichem  Lifnei Hashem Titharu.”(Lev. 16:30).’ For on THIS DAY (Yom Kippur) G-d will forgive you, and cleanse you, so that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.’

As we pass through this Shabbat Shuva, we anticipate and encounter the energy of Yom Kippur. Many associate this auspicious day as a day of fear (‘Yirah’), a day of Judgment (‘Din’), but our Sages suggest that it is more a day of SEEING (‘re’eh) clearly, a day of measurement of where we are rather than Judgment (Din), and most importantly a day of Grace, and G-d’s love and forgiveness. Elijah, the Prophet, experiences that G-d in not found in the wind, nor in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in a still small voice. ‘Kol D’mama Dakah’ (1 Kings, ch.19:verse 12). When our consciousness is centered, not agitated, we become ‘Seers,’ open to the Presence of G-d. In our silent state (removing mind’s distractions), we can hear the wispy whispers of G-d surrounding us. Birds chirping, the wind rustling in the trees, the dog wanting us to play, many gifts, many soul messages awakening us to our duties and unique potential contributions. THIS day is a day of joy!

Our Sages say that it is our confidence in G-d’s love and our yielding to G-d’s Grace on THIS day (‘Thy will be Done’), just by observing the day, that makes this day a ‘Mechaper’, -a bestower of grace, -as the final step in our return home. We are to give up our enervating “Willing” at this point, which is insufficient for a full teshuva, and realize it is only God’s Grace, G-d’s love for us that ultimately makes our teshuva possible. and complete. So, we bow down in gratitude and recognition of the power of G-d’s love and in complete faith, our inner love is drawn out of us, loving G-d with all our might, with all our heart, and with all our soul.  We realize our ultimate dependence on G-d, the all-powerful, but are overjoyed that G-d’s essence is complete love for us, and thus, our Holy Day brings forth great joy.

Moreover, Yom Kippur is a ‘Day of Joy’ because no matter that we have failed during the past year we were still given a SECOND CHANCE to return and we have become whole again, overjoyed to proceed with a clean slate. “You stretch out your hand to sinners, and your right hand is open to receive those who want to return.”  We have come home welcomed by our G-d.  We have removed the impediments, the defenses, and cleared a way for the Light that is always there. Our desire to change brought us closer to Hashem, but we finally also recognized that it is only G-d’s great love for us that makes our return possible. This is the understanding that it is the DAY ITSELF, G-d within this day which forgives us. Not our ‘WILLING’ which inevitably falls short, but the Grace that G-d bestows upon us because of our efforts these Ten days of Repentance. G-d’s majesty, G-d’s sovereignty must be recognized and yielded to, for the new rebirth to occur, for our new way of entering the world.

Once we make the previous effort of the steps of Teshuva, in the final stage of Yom Kippur we yield to the Grace of the Lord, and we are transformed to a new state. That is why on Yom Kippur we don a WHITE Kittel (garment) symbolizing purity, love, joy, and symbolizing death to the old way of being, and embracing the (new) renewed state. We have been transformed by our efforts and finally by G-d’s love. Yes, the day itself is ‘Mechaper’ (the Forgiver)  and thus it is the ‘season of joy,’ and a time of transformation, death to the old and embracing the new. We are free to begin again, having grown, having cleansed ourselves of much of our dross that distances ourselves from Hashem. We remove the outer layers that prevent us from coming close, we are now those who have heard the still small voice, and the clarion call of the Shofar. G-d has compassion for us even if our physical needs and ego distractions overwhelm us; just by trying and showing up is enough for Hashem to forgive us. We have been blessed to return to our community and to G-d’s love which is always present, and to our soul within, to the inner kernel of goodness that we all possess. So, we celebrate in joy the opportunity to rediscover our true selves, to come home, to remember that we are SOULS within a body.  We break the fast with joy and come together to our friends and family. It is like a jovial wedding party. At Mt. Sinai we were bride and groom under the chuppah. Just as the bride in love reaches out to the groom, the groom in love reaches out to the bride, and G-d dwells in between. We REMEMBER who we truly are. We return to Shechina, to Neshama, to community, to G-d’s love, to what we can become, to our unique destiny, to the truth to stand for what we believe in. We discover our identities and rediscover our loyalty to our commitments.

Thus, we have gone through a process of assessing where we are relative to who can become, our unique destiny. In this context we face our challenges and conjure up the truth to see and stand for what we believe. We begin to create a loyalty to our commitments and identity. At the sound of the shofar, at the end of the Neilah/Ma’ariv service we wake up and recommit to redeem the world, holding the energy of ‘Thy Will be Done.”

Our Rabbis support the idea of G-d’s Grace in their quaint human stories and imaginings: An example, If your son or daughter came to you regretting his or her mistake, wishing it never happened, apologizing with a heavy heart, and pledging never to repeat it, wouldn’t you forgive him or her? So does Hashem forgive all the mistakes we have made! Just like a toddler we fall again and again, but in the end, a loving G-d gives us the opportunity to succeed. Accordingly, we must find the good in ourselves. Rebbe Nachman counsels that Hashem loves us so we must never despair; joy, laughter, and song, are requisites along our journey. So let us celebrate Yom Kippur, as the beginning of a year of Joy!

In conclusion, let us ask ourselves what are our priorities and who do we want to be this coming year? What have we learned from the darkness, and how shall we grow from it?  Here are 10 questions we may ask ourselves from Shabbat Shuva to Yom Kippur as we proceed forward on our journey:

1-When do I feel that my life is most meaningful?
2-Those who mean the most to me–have I ever told them how I feel?
3-If I could live my life over, would I change anything?
4-What would bring me more happiness than anything in the world?
5-What are my three most significant accomplishments since last Yom Kippur?
6-What are my three biggest mistakes since last Yom Kippur?
7-What project or goal, if left undone, will I regret most next Yom Kippur?
8-If I knew I couldn’t fail, what project would I undertake to accomplish?
9-If I could only give my friends, or my family, or my children three pieces of advice, what would they be?

10-What are my three major goals in life? What am I doing to achieve them? What practical steps can I take in the next 12 months toward these goals?

Blessings for success and joy, in achieving the wishes of your heart this year!

Sending much love and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mel