A day like no other

September 15, 2021 by Jeremy Rosen
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The Torah says of Yom Kippur, “For this day will atone for you, to cleanse you of your sins and you will be purified before God.” (Leviticus 16.30).

Jeremy Rosen

The Torah also says that this is a day to atone only for those sins we have committed against God, not against other people. If we have offended or wronged another human being, we can only atone by putting it right with that person directly.

We are also told we can atone anytime. We can repent every day of the year. And if we are sincere, we will be forgiven. Once upon a time, we marked atonement by bringing a sacrifice, now it is by restoration and charity. So why do we have a special Day of Atonement?

Yom Kippur in the Bible was primarily a national event and only then, a personal one. It was the one day when everyone, the nation as a whole, stood before God and reaffirmed its identity. To this day Yom Kippur is the one day when the majority of Jews come together. Not necessarily to worship God, important as that might be, but to experience the mystical energy of togetherness.

The actual term for atonement, Kapara, literally means to replace, to renew. This is a day devoted to change. We can become a better nation. The language of the prayers we recite is not about us as individuals as much as us as a community. It is not “I have sinned” but “We have sinned.” It is  Zeman Kapara Letoldotam, a time of atonement for the generations. And not Yom Teshuva, a Day of Repentance, which is for the individual.

Regardless of our differences, in politics, religious or national commitment, we celebrate this day of reflection, introspection with a determination to do and be better. It is our spiritual Independence Day. Not independence as a civil state, or from an oppressor, not political freedom, but a day for the nation to look at itself and feel unity, however briefly.

If only everywhere there was such a day, of reconciliation, of commitment to ideals, to find a way of celebrating togetherness instead of the current hatred, polarization, and antagonism. Perhaps in our efforts to stress the values of the Torah and coming together as a nation, we can hope that others might find a way to do the same thing.

May your fast be an easy and positive experience and one that leads to a better year.

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