Yom Kippur Drash

Yom Kippur 5771 September 17 – September 18, 2010

“Many Voices within the Higher Light”

by Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, PhD
President, Academy for Jewish Religion, CA (AJRCA)

The word ‘kippur’ derives from a root which is akin to wiping away and cleansing. We are to enter a process on this day which culminates in a cleansing due to our sincere efforts of Teshuva which we have engaged in for ten days from the beginning of Rosh Hashana to the culmination of Yom Kippur. What has been the purpose of this Teshuva, and what has been its goal? The classic definition of Teshuva is related to the correction of sin, a renewed commitment to the commandments and our religion. However, many of our Sages state an alternative view that Teshuva, actually relates to the word to ‘return.’ So essentially the task of the High Holidays is to create a process where one returns to G-d, and thus returns to his/her inner soul. This emphasis shifts focus from the correction of ‘sin,’ to the correction of our inner condition, whose distance from G-d is the source of sin itself. There are times where we have strayed so distantly from the spiritual path, that our inner spark becomes dim; we live in darkness and alienation while putting on a happy, proper face. Sometimes our guilt and shame do not allow us to come close to our Source, because we feel so unworthy and unacceptable. But our soul deeply yearns for a return to its source, for our Beloved to welcome us back, to reach our depths once more where at its core is the desire to give, and to express our beneficent talents, and the glowing light that Hashem has bestowed upon us.

How does one accomplish this Kippur, this ‘cleansing?’ Interestingly, we may have noticed that in the beginning of our Teshuva process on Rosh Hashana, there is no mention of confessions of sin (‘Al chet’), no emphasis on a Teshuva process that deals with our regrets and confessions of our sinful behavior. There is only what Rav Soloveichik calls a ‘hirhurei Teshuva’ on Rosh Hahsana, a beginning whisper of how to begin the process. For in reality Teshuva is much more than just the ‘small will’ (ego) striving to become more disciplined and more successful in obedience to all the details of the Law. If we merely concentrate on this, our ‘small will,’ we will always fail. As the Rav points out, the symbol of Teshuva on Rosh Hashana resides in the listening to the sounds of the Shofar whose rousing blasts awakens us to the Higher Will, to return to the Higher Reality that lives with us on a daily basis if we would but only awaken to it. The path to remove the darkness is to cleanse the impediments, the ingrained habits that take our energies away from the Higher Reality that is always there and return. Some of us do this by studying Torah from inspirational teachers , those who are alive and those from previous generations who still speak to us; some awaken by participating in a moving prayer service with fellow seekers who band together to knock on Heaven’s Door; some return by encountering the beauty and grandeur of Nature as we are overwhelmed by the majesty of creation and the Creator; from the wisdom of the ant to the love of the dog, to the beauty of the flower and butterfly we are awakened to the beneficent Shechina. We become aware of the Source expressing itself in all aspects of our lives, the life force, that surrounds us in its vitality and love every moment.

Yes, each of us returns in a unique way, each of us resonates with a particular voice and gesture that touches our soul, that is a truth that we must follow. At AJRCA, we have created a trans-denominational school that honors many voices of authority. We learn from the Orthodox voice that experiences the written and oral Torah as an extension of the mind of G-d, and thus it must be followed diligently, and one is overwhelmed by the intricate depth of wisdom within the ‘dalet amot of Halacha’ and is awakened to the Heart of Go-d. We learn, too, from the philosophical and innovative teachings of the Conservative movement, who bear the tension of ‘Tradition and Change,’ and thus cede the authority to contemporary scholars to not only honor the tradition of the past, but to change the Halacha in response to new conditions that have arisen in the contemporary world. They view this task as a legitimate, authentic methodology utilized by Sages of past generations and wish to make the Halacha similarly relevant to the contemporary world, and thus are awakened to G-d in this process. We study as well, the Reform movement’s utilization of the Prophetic voice, calling out for justice in a world of injustice, creating social action programs in the world community as well as the Jewish community, and creating liturgical, poetic prose that resonates with the language of the modern person, and thus through this creative and passionate work of individual conscience we hear the voice of the Lord. We also honor the teachings of our Reconstructionist brothers and sisters who enlighten us to the power of Jewish Culture and its role in Jewish identity and who also allow for different images of G-d, that allows accessibility to modern sensibility and we imbibe their light as well. And finally we integrate some of the integrative neo-Hassidic teachings of the Renewal movement with great appreciation of their courage, creativity and innovation.

Each of us resonate with different sources of authority, and some of us take parts of each denomination, to make a new ‘whole’ for us, and thus we reach the ‘Higher Light’ of Teshuva through this free, authentic search for return that culminates in Yom Kippur, our day of cleansing the impediments, of removing the darkness that resulted from inauthenticity, or being trapped in a maze which we created unknowingly; and we return to the Higher Light in freedom, each actualizing the unique sparks and way of seeing the world that G-d gifted us with. On Yom Kippur we ‘catch the wave’, the ‘Higher Will,’ we draw from the fountain of life, the source of energy that flows beneficently throughout the universe.

As the great Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook wrote last century in his work ‘Orot Hakodesh,’ “There will come a time when this full comprehensiveness, when the talents of all our people will rise ‘to become the song of Holiness, the song of G-d, the song of Israel, in its full authenticity and greatness. It will become the song of the self, the song of the people, the song of humanity, and the song of the world.” May it be so this year, this Yom Kippur, as we honor all the voices of G-d in all their splendor and let us say Amen, v’kein Yhi Ratzon.