Yom Kippur 5779: Student Rabbi David Aladjem
G’mar chatima tova – may each of you, all of our friends and family, and all the world be sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year.
At this solemn moment of the year, I want to ask you a deep question. Do any of you really – in your heart of hearts – look forward to Yom Kippur? Be honest.
I didn’t think so.
When I grew up, Rosh Hashanah was a time for new clothes, for apples and honey and for celebrating that I was that much closer to being an adult. Boy, was I misguided! Yom Kippur, on the other hand, was a time to put on my most somber face and a dark suit and tie, to think about all the things I hadn’t done in the way that my parents thought right, and – eventually – to try to ignore the grumblings of my stomach. And I imagine that many of you had the same experiences – even today.
Well, my friends, tonight/today I want to let you in on a secret: Yom Kippur is really – and trust me on this – the day of the year that is most filled with joy. I know that you don’t believe me, but let me explain.
On Rosh Hashanah, I mentioned that the voice of the shofar is one of the unique markers of these Days of Awe. I spoke about the first time that Torah teaches us about the voice of the shofar, as part of the moment of Revelation at Mount Sinai. And I talked about listening to the voice of the shofar today, in this very moment. I spoke about how we need to listen to the Divine Voice that is knocking at our hearts, telling us how beautiful this world is and how beautiful we are.
This evening/morning, I want to talk about the other time that the voice of the shofar is mentioned in Torah, as the signal for the Jubilee Year, the signal for a world redeemed. In Leviticus 25:9-10, we learn that we are to:
“sound the shofar – proclaiming the Jubilee Year – on Yom Kippur. On this day the voice of the shofar will sound throughout the land. And you will make the Jubilee Year holy and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land.”
If that last phrase sounds familiar, it should. It is engraved on the Liberty Bell.
Why does the Jubilee Year begin with the blast of the shofar on Yom Kippur? The shofar is an echo of the moment of Revelation. It is a call for us to make teshuvah, to return to the moment when we stood at Sinai and listened to the Word of G’d in silence. The shofar immediately takes us back to that moment and, at the same time, takes us back to our natural state of holiness, of kedushah. At Mount Sinai we were called (Ex. 19:6): “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” And when we are in that state – when we truly come back to our deepest inner selves – we and the world around us are transformed. We are redeemed. This is the jubilee, when all will eat and no one will be hungry.
As the Prophet Isaiah says in the Haftorah we will read/just read this morning:
When we share our bread with the hungry,
When we let the oppressed go free,
When we clothe the naked,
When we welcome those who are fleeing from oppression
Then G’d will be with us.
Our light will burst forth like the dawn
When we call, G’d will answer
When we thirst for meaning, we will drink from the waters of compassion
When we seek love, we will find it all around us.
Proclaim liberty throughout the land, says the Torah. The sounding of the shofar on Yom Kippur is a call to a world redeemed, a world of justice and tranquility, a world where we have come home.
The shofar is not merely a way to bring about redemption. It is also a way to connect to our deepest human desires and yearnings. Rabbi Naomi Levy writes in Einstein and the Rabbi (p. 260) that her favorite blessing from the Talmud is: “May you see your world to come, come to pass in this world.” The role of the shofar in the Torah is to “proclaim liberty throughout the land.” And when it does, it opens up to us the possibility of true liberty, of being the person that G’d created us to be. Rabbi Levy teaches (p. 236) that: “there can be a very big distance between who you think you are and who G’d knows you are.” And, sadly, her words ring so true.
We are each of us created with the capacity to do wonders in this world. Some of us may be scientists, some of us may be teachers, many of us are parents. In those roles, we are called “to proclaim liberty throughout the land.” That doesn’t mean that we should all be politicians – heaven forbid. Instead it means that each of us, in our daily lives, has the opportunity to become – and to enable others to become – the people whom G’d created us to be. We are each an integral part of an incomprehensible mosaic of souls, a mosaic that is both a glimmer in G’d’s eye and a healing of all the wounds of our souls. When we live into our deepest purpose, the aspect of life that gives us more joy than we can describe, we “click” into G’d’s mosaic and we become shalem: whole.
You’re probably wondering how the Jubilee Year, the shofar blast, and becoming shalem, becoming whole, relate to my statement that Yom Kippur is the most joyous day of the year. In the Talmud (TB Taanit 26b), we learn that Yom Kippur is described as a day that is simchat libo, a day of heartfelt joy, a day equal to one’s wedding day or the day upon which we received Torah at Mount Sinai.
The best way to describe such joy – the joy that we can feel and the joy that G’d feels with us and about us – is the word nachas. To quote Rabbi Levy (p. 291): “Nachas is that moment when the soul feels complete, when it rejoices in a job well done – having raised a child or a disciple well. Nachas involves a sigh, a release, a sense of peace, and exhilaration and pride at the same time.” When we come home to ourselves by listening to the blast of the shofar – and, mind you, the commandment is to listen to the shofar, not to blow it – we give G’d nachas. More than that, we give ourselves nachas because we have done the one thing that we are put on this earth to do: to live into our fullest selves.
Yom Kippur is the most joyous day of the year because it is the day when we can come home to our deepest selves, without judgment and in love. In coming home home to our deepest selves, we come face to face – panim el panim – with G’d. We are met with the smile that – I hope – your parent had when you came home from kindergarten with your latest artwork. We are met with the smile that – I hope – your parents had when you said to them: “This is the person whom I love.” We are met with the smile that – I hope – each of us has when we encounter a friend whom we have not seen for a while. In coming home to ourselves, G’d meets us with a smile of love, pure joy and nachas. G’d meets us with the smile that is reserved for Yom Kippur.
In the end, being true to our deepest selves is all that G’d wants from us. G’d doesn’t need the beating of our chests during the confessional, doesn’t need our fasting, doesn’t need our endless standing and sitting – and sitting and standing. All that G’d wants – and all that our souls need to have in order to have simchat libo, heartfelt joy – is to be ourselves, to shine with sparks of Divinity that are nestled in our souls.
When we answer our soul’s calling to become our truest and deepest selves, we have simchat libo, heartfelt joy. We feel that joy and the Holy Blessed One feels nachas. And when both we and G’d are united in love and joy, that is a holy day. And this is why Yom Kippur is the most joyous day of the year.
May we find love and joy – simchat libo and nachas – throughout this Yom Kippur and every day in this year to come.
כו יהי רצון
May this truly be G’d’s will