Yom Kippur is, on the Jewish calendar, many things. It is a personal day, a national day. It is perhaps “super-national” in that we are both a nation and a people and this one day unites us across all national, political, social, economic, geographic and even historical borders.
There are few Jews I have less in common with then the small and misguided Neturei Karta sect and yet, even they will bow down before this day. That is particularly appropriate because I personally believe that the greatest of God’s wrath against any Jew will likely be against those who turn their hearts and souls against what He has gifted to us, and that would be this land, this sovereignty, this destiny.
Tonight and tomorrow begin a day in which we as Jews pull into ourselves. Elect who you will, go about your business, say what you want, do what you want – today, it means nothing to the Jew because tonight we prepare to go before the Highest Court, the only One True Judge. We are brought to our knees – the only time of the year.
We are raised not to swear because it is on this day that we are held accountable for all the oaths made in vain; we are taught not to bow, except before God, except on and just before Yom Kippur.
Tonight, we close our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the rest of the world and we look to the heavens. We accept the concept that all things come from God. We acknowledge that this is our judgment day. All we did in the past year is placed on the table before the Judge and it is decided. He knows what was in our hearts when we failed (and when we succeeded). He knows what we did, why we did it. What we said…and didn’t say, and why.
There is no reason to beg for our lives before God, no need to plead our case before a God who knows all. And so we do something different, a reminder to ourselves that we do not go before God alone. We as a people beseech Him. We collectively turn to our God with the hope that the sins of one will be offset by the deeds of another. It is the greatest bargaining event of the year.
If there is one thing the non-Jew does not understand about the Jew, it is our sense of the collective. There is an awareness, an instant connection that transcends time and place. It is a bond that was formed in Sarah’s womb, handed down from generation to generation to generation. When I go the Cave of the Patriarchs and stand before her grave, I know…not just feel…I know…that I am standing before my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and more than a few hundred generations doesn’t change that connection.
She was at my wedding, there to celebrate the births of each of my children. She was at, and will be at, each of their weddings. And before you think me completely insane, Jews believe that all of us were there at Mount Sinai when our leader and teacher Moshe brought down the laws of our faith. We were there and promised – we will do and we will accept.
Tonight comes to many Jews in fear. Fear at having to defend a year when we could have done more; should have done better. Should have found a way to say what we needed to say without hurting someone else; should have found the bridge we were meant to cross. We shouldn’t have done some things; we could have done so much more.
But the collective soul of the Jewish people has been facing this day for thousands of years and somewhere in the terror of running out of time, of failing to find the strength to apologize for all that we failed, somewhere in those 25 hours of fasting and praying, comes that moment when you lay open your heart and you begin to look around and think of the wonder of millions of people in nearly every country in the world facing this day together.
Some people encourage you to focus on the judgment that will take place in the coming hours; some ask that you consider your actions, your words. I’d like to offer one more thought that should be included, and that is the collectivity of the Jewish people. As you stand before God, remember that beside you, behind you, in front of you, above you, and below you, stands the Jewish people as well.
Your deeds and sins stand within those of an entire nation. Not for one moment are you alone. Let the heavens be filled with our voices and our prayers, our hopes, our dreams, our plans. May we welcome children and grandchildren in the coming year; may Jews from all over the world find their way home. May our sons and daughters be blessed; our husbands and wives, mothers and fathers be granted life and health.
May this year be the year we remember and honor the promise God made to us. He is with us always, in every place we roam, and in the home we have created and nurtured.
May this year be a year of life, of safety, of health, of prosperity. G’mar hatima tova – may we all, collectively, be written in the Book of Life.
And as we stand before God, remember – To my right Michael and to my left Gabriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Raphael, and over my head, the presence of God.