A Note for the New Year


This new year, we enter Yom Kippur amidst a period of great divisiveness about a large number of social issues. The lines polarizing the greater community seem more severely drawn, and clear expressions of what in the past would have been immediately labeled as hate speech have become a commonplace even within the presidential election process. Perhaps, this year, contemplating these matters is a necessary theme for the high holy day period.
In antiquity, and preserved within our textual rites, the central moment of the Yom Kippur experience was the set of sacrifices that the High Priest brought at the Temple in Jerusalem, as an act of healing for the people, its leadership, and its priesthood. Noteworthy about the rite on Yom Kippur as opposed to the sacrificial rite of the rest of the year was that the High Priest performed this rite in simple white clothing rather than the usual gold embroidered uniform (the bigdei lavan vs the bigdei zahav). Many reasons have been given for this, but one resonated with me for this year.

The Kedushat Levi explains that on Yom Kippur, the ritual is performed in white symbolizing white light, white light being made up of the full spectrum of colors, as is seen when white light is refracted through a prism. He explains that on Yom Kippur, all the different forms of spiritual efflux come together into a unified whole, rising above their usual differentiation in the material worlds.
Yom Kippur is marked by the practice of withdrawal, for a full day, from eating, drinking, sexual intimacy, high end (leather) shoes, and tending to appearances (washing). As we have written, this is not meant as punishment, but as a practice of reaching beyond. Our deeper selves are given a chance to reach beyond our limited mundane desires and primitive unmediated appetites.
This year, perhaps more than in years past, as we contemplate the spiritual process of Yom Kippur as ritually signified by white rainment, white clothing, the special white Torah ark covers used for these days, we should meditate upon the true nature of white light, a light made up of all the possible colors of the spectrum. All the colors of the spectrum, as a praxis, means we need to overcome all obstructions that hinder our vision from attaining the highest light, recognize the unity of all mankind, consciously transcend all the seeming limitations of politics, nationalisms, race, faith, and gender that keep us apart. Let us in our Yom Kippur experience learn to transcend hate.

As the “Day of Atonement” approaches I invite you to reflect on two of my previously posted essays:
First, Yom Kippur: Time and Teshuva- A Place for Healing, which explores:

  • The relationship between time andteshuva(repentance) and how we can change the past with actions from the present.
  • The startling similarity between R. Kook and Nietzsche on the retroactive force of history and healing the past.
  • How Yom Kippur can provide a safe place for self-healing as it places us “outside of time.”

Second, Book of Jonah Dvar: Delivered at Temple Beth Shalom, Las Vegas, Mincha of Yom Kippur 2011, speculates:

  • How a traditionally somber day is actually one of the happiest.
  • Why we read the Jonah story on Yom Kippur.
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