As fulfilling as it was to engage in Shavuot programs, a lot weighs on me. With COVID-19 continuing to ravage Black communities and racist violence all over the news, I almost feel like it’s Yom Kippur instead – the time when Jews are supposed to be most aware of their own mortality.
This week, I tell a friend I’d love to chat but actually I have to run Yom Kippur services are starting soon and I’ve got to repent for my sins before the gates are closed. She laughs. “Well, you’re gay, so you’ve definitely got a lot of repenting to do.”
I’ve come to the conclusion we need to change the date of Simchat Torah. Our Jewish festivals must be re-envisioned as inspirational community gatherings of joyful spiritual Jewish celebration. Every single festival needs to be a time of great community involvement and meaning.
The opening line of this portion, "The Eternal One spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal" (Leviticus 16:1), reminds us that the holy is not only attractive, but also dangerous.
Why does the Torah mention the deaths of Nadab and Abihu here in Acharei Mot, when the story of their deaths was told in its entirety in Parashat Sh'mini? What is it that the Torah is trying to teach us through this repetition?
Every Yom Kippur afternoon, congregations all over the world read the Book of Jonah, as set out for us in the Babylonian Talmud, M'gillah 31a. Most people believe that this haftarah is chosen because it models complete repentance.
Decades ago, Rabbi Jack Reimer explained Yom Kippur for me this way. It's not saying: I'm sorry I was bad and I won't do it again. That's only a Sunday school, superficial expression of something much deeper and spiritually far more important.