Waking Up: Reflections on the meaning of Yom Kippur

The morning traffic is slow on my drive to work, and I remember. It is Yom Kippur. The public schools in my neighborhood are out for the Jewish holiday.

One of my school teacher co-workers tells me she didn’t know what to say to her students to acknowledge their holy day. “What do you say on Yom Kippur?” she asks me. I’m not sure.

At our staff meeting, our Jewish co-worker reads us this reflection by Rabbi David Wolpe on Yom Kippur, and I learn:

Yom Kippur is about death.

As Rabbi Wolpe writes:

Yom Kippur is a powerful existentialist statement. In its best known prayer, the Unetaneh Tokef, we are reminded that we are fleeting, that our lives are like the wind that blows, like the flower that fades, as a passing shadow.

I think about the article I read last week about another shooting in East Oakland, another child in the schools I served hit by stray bullets of someone else’s fight. I think about a woman in our congregation who was shaken last week after witnessing a stranger’s suicide when they leapt from a tall building. I think about a different woman in our congregation whose doctor found, accidentally, the tumor she just had removed – she breathes a cancer-free breath today.

The Psalmist cries:

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

But, of course, because it is about death, Yom Kippur is also about life.

It is about being present to the goodness of another day, being open to the receiving of the grace of living, the mercy of God. It is about humility and open hands.

“It’s kind of like Ash Wednesday,” our Jewish co-worker explains. “You repent, you restart. On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed, and you can again appeal to God for forgiveness.”

– – –

Later, in the afternoon, I drive South, away from the city.

The trees lining the highway, blushing their first touches red and gold, lean in and whisper Wake up, be alive in this moment.

The gray clouds slouch across the strip of sky, and they too lean in and whisper Wake up, be alive in this moment.

Suddenly it is as if the whole world is a quiet chorus bringing me to life, calling me to gratitude for the fleeting brush of this one moment, this one breath, and I feel so tiny and so huge all at once.

And I remember that each breath I take is precious because of the first breath I won’t take.

Wake up.

You are already alive in this moment.

– – –

Joining the harmony of voices at SheLoves for the AWAKE Synchoblog. Go visit and read some other stories of awakening.

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1 Comment

Filed under Spirituality

One response to “Waking Up: Reflections on the meaning of Yom Kippur

  1. Thank you for joining us in our synchro blog, xo

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