Yom Kippur

September 6, 2011Yehudit Werchow

URJ General Shelicha
(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah)

What shall we say before You, who dwell on high?...Yet from the beginning You set us apart to stand erect before You. (Gates of Repentance, p. 512 and 515)

The month of Elul leads us gradually into one of the most reflective periods in the Jewish calendar. In this process we reflect on the passing year or years; on the things we did or didn't do; on the things we said and to whom; and what was said to us; on what we forgot to say or simply couldn't say, on those who departed from us during the passing year; and on our tomorrows...

The culmination of this process is the twenty five hours of Yom Kippur; when we sit in our hearts, watch and pray; maybe God sits there with us and watches too; as we rerun the passing year and our journey in it.

Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul for reconciliation with God, our fellow human beings, and ourselves. We are commanded to turn to those whom we have wronged first. To acknowledge our sins and the pain we might have caused; and at the same time to be willing to forgive, to let go of certain offenses and the feelings of resentment they provoked in us. In this journey we are both seekers and givers of pardon. Only then we can turn to God and ask "And for all these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement."

I sometimes wonder if this reaching out to God is reciprocal too. What is the nature of the conversation we hold with God during this process? Is this a time to turn to God and ask our questions? What do we do with feelings of frustration?  Is God turning to us too?
"All that which God didn't say to him Abraham left behind him. Big cases crammed up with silence" (Rivka Miriam).1

Rivka Miriam's poem reflects on the unique relationship between Abraham and God; and particularly on the nature of their conversations. Abraham challenged God during his life more than once, he also had many conversations with God, yet there must have been also intense moments of silence between him God - perhaps after Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael off, or around the journey towards the binding Isaac? What was it like for him to live with all these "cases of silence"? What do we do with our own "cases of silence"?

Can we find time or give space during this soul-searching process to express our uncertainties, our doubts? To communicate our gratitude? I believe that we can be critical and honest in our process of T'shuvah and at the same time question, protest or simply unfold our hidden silences. I am not certain that the process will necessarily reveal new insights or comforting truths but I am not certain that it would not.

Dan Pagis describes a challenging relationship between humans and God; his poem expresses a great anxiety toward God. It is not clear who started the game "hide-and-seek" but it is clear that this game is causing a great distress.

In the back yard of the world
We played him and me.
I covered my eyes. He hid:
One, two, three,
Not in from of me, not behind me,
Not within me.

I've been seeking since then
So many years
So what if I can't find you.
Come out already, come out.
You see that I have given up.

Asking for forgiveness and forgiving is hard. Finding God and conversing with God might be harder. First, we need to recognize and be prepared to open our cases of silence. It seems that we need to agree doing it without any guarantee that we will be able to find answers for some of the questions that were well protected by the silence. It is possible however that by opening these cases we might liberate some of our baggage and maybe even peel off some layers of hard skin that covered our hearts and prevented the day light from shining through.

How can we overcome the feeling that God is hiding from us? Can we pray and ask forgiveness from a hidden God? Are we ready to call for God yet? What is the nature of the God to whom we pray?

Admiel Kosman, believes that the journey leads to God, and more importantly that God is searching for us too. We are as precious to God as God is to us.

We reached God.
completely by chance. Actually, we stumbled into him.
We were midway, downhill,
with the whole big load of donkeys,
and suddenly, at the curve of the road, as we leaned
to look,
we stumbled into him.

He too was looking for us,
like a precious stone, he said, like a pearl,
 really, like a lost object. 2

May our journey be filled with conversation and silence, S'lichah, forgiveness, M'chilah, acceptance of our apology, and the joy of the encounter. 

1 Rivka Miriam , Elders,  1999.
2 Admiel Kosman , Higanu L'Elohim , 1998. Translated from the Hebrew by Varda Koch Ocker

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