Yom Kippur: A Personal Reflection

September 12, 2011

by P.J. Schwartz
(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah)

It's that time of year again!  Yes, that's right - it's tax season!  Time to fill out your forms, collect your W-2's and account for everything you have earned and purchased throughout the past year.  After filing your taxes, you, along with possibly everyone else, await the news as to whether you owe money or have been given a refund. 

I've always described the High Holy Days, especially the ten days approaching Yom Kippur, as the "tax season of Judaism."  We spend our days reflecting upon the past year and sometimes making a mental list of all the things we did, or didn't do, during the year.  We account for our mistakes, our successes, and even ask ourselves what we can do to do better.  We accept responsibility for our actions and determine if we owe someone an apology for those actions.  In return, we hope that we have been forgiven.   We even may hope that we receive some of the feelings of comfort that may have been previously overshadowed by our guilt. 

There's a famous poem within the Gates of Repentance that begins with the phrase, "On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and Yom Kippur it is sealed."  Much like we know that April 15 is the deadline to file our taxes, Yom Kippur marks the conclusion, or deadline of some sorts, for us to admit to ourselves and others of our wrongdoings and demonstrate that we can improve.  That is not to say that Yom Kippur is the only day we can reflect and seek forgiveness.  We can always file an extension and receive more time as so long it ensures that the task of personal growth continues. 

Things take time - especially things that we want to do well and make sure we do right.  Even though deadlines are important, I personally believe that it's more important to do your best at something rather than meeting that deadline.  Accounting for our actions and growing from them takes work.  There's a notion in our mystical tradition that says that God doesn't care how long it takes us to learn, grow, and help repair the world.  The only thing that God cares about is that we are working towards these things.  Being created b'tzelem elohim (in the image of God) doesn't mean we are perfect, but it means that when we are increasingly aware of who we are, what we have done, and where we can go, that spark of God within us flickers.   We also find in our liturgy the statement, "On Rosh Hashanah we reflect, and on Yom Kippur we consider."  May each of us consider and account for our actions.  After all, don't we owe it to ourselves a refund of comfort, strength, and peace of mind once we have done so? 

P.J. Schwartz is a fifth year student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, OH. He recently married Michelle Beth Schwartz, a Special Education teacher from Atlanta, Georgia, in May. The two of them met during college. P.J. has served congregations in Marion, Indiana, Ishpeming, Michigan, and currently is student rabbi at Temple Israel in Marion, OH. P.J. also is actively involved as a teacher at Isaac M. Wise Temple. In addition to his studies at HUC, P.J. will earn his Master of Arts in Educational Administration, with a Specialization in Jewish Studies in December 2011 as part of a joint program between Xavier University and HUC.

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