Yearly Reflection and its Importance –
By Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel
Rabbi Paul Kerbel
You might be wondering and too polite to ask the rabbi why we have more services on Yom Kippur than on Rosh HaShanah or any other holiday for that matter. Kol Nidre/Evening Service of Yom Kippur, Shacharit, Musaf, Mincha and Neilah. Neilah is unique to Yom Kippur.
In addition, each of these services except for Kol Nidre has both a silent Amidah and a Repetition of the Amidah (although quite a bit of the material we recite silently is later chanted by the shaliach tzibbur but is not a formal repetition) which means that we are basically saying all of the prayers, all of the confessional prayers ten times!
“Rabbi Kerbel, do we really need to do all of this praying?” I am sure you would like for me to find some lenient opinion on this subject such as, “it’s okay just to come on Yom Kippur eve or Shacharit and Musaf but stay home for Minha and Neilah?” But… I can’t do that. I think we have to reframe the question: What is Yom Kippur really about? What do we hope to accomplish? Why can’t we just light the candles, kindle a Yahrzeit candle, give tzedakah, say the confessional, communicate with G-d of our failings during the past year, offer to do better and call it a day?
I think you know the answer: Yom Kippur is not about quantity, it is about quality and a certain measure of endurance. All of our laws and customs, prayers and rituals are designed to remind us of our relationship with G-d and our fellow human beings and our goal is to spend this 25-hour period, reflecting on our relationships and on ourselves, our souls and our behavior.
The prayers of Yom Kippur help us, in the words of Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, “to understand that our lives have meaning, that what we do matters and, that we should care. We recite prayers of forgiveness and atonement to remind us of the many ways in which we are partnered with G-d and our fellow human beings and we hope that through our fasting, prayers and self-reflection that G-d will temper the verdict of our behavior with G-d’s predilection for compassion and caring.”
I realize now that we need all of Yom Kippur -every minute-, to even reach the possibility that as we approach Neilah, we have attained the status of angels, that we are as pure during the last minutes of Yom Kippur as we will ever be during the course of the year. And it is at Mincha and Neilah that we channel the power and energy of the entire day of praying into hallowed moments where we pray that G-d is listening to our prayers, accepts them and writes us in the Book of Life. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik suggested that: “The purpose of Neilah is to request that all of the previous prayers of Yom Kippur be accepted before G-d. The function of Neilah is to transform all of our previous prayers of Yom Kippur into one unified prayer.” When we combine the power and energy of our prayers multiplied by the prayers and kavannah of the entire congregation, we achieve a heightened level of spirituality and holiness. Even more importantly, Yom Kippur is a day that requires us to commit to actions not only to better ourselves but to better our world. One of Modern Orthodoxy’s most eloquent spokesmen, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, considers tikkun olam(repairing the world) to be one of the most important themes of Yom Kippur. “The Book Of Jonah” represents the theme of universal repentance and that G-d wants all people, not just his treasured people, to follow Him and turn to G-d in repentance.
There are times where Judaism provides us with shortcuts and other times where we have to take the longer journey filled with prayer, reflection, atonement and the search for a cleansing holiness. Yom Kippur is one of those days. May all of our journeys on Yom Kippur help us reach new heights in all of our relationships and create a richness and depth to our Jewish lives. A meaningful fast to all!
Rabbi Paul Kerbel is a Rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim and a Past President of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.