I am writing this on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is a day on which we communally and individually ask for forgiveness for the sins we have committed against God during the previous year and commit to bettering ourselves spiritually for the year ahead. It is a day of deep soul accounting, reflection and introspection. Importantly, however, the atonement we are granted on Yom Kippur does not extend to the sins which we have committed against others, and we must ask the people whom we have wronged for forgiveness for those sins. Teshuvah, which is derived from the Hebrew root meaning to turn, is a process through which we return to God through a three-pronged process of acknowledging our missteps, humbly asking for forgiveness and resolving not to repeat our wrongdoings.
This time of year is one in which I strive to do the spiritual work necessary for me to enter the new year renewed and refreshed, but like so many others, I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and find myself far afield from achieving the goals I had humbly, or perhaps loftily, set for myself. I have been reflecting a great deal on the year past—a year which was simultaneously incredibly difficult and tremendously exciting—and from amidst the pain I experienced this year, I have learned so much. This learning has become the foundation upon which the Torah I want to teach rests.
Yom Kippur’s hours of fasting and prayer are experiences we share as a larger Jewish family, while simultaneously being deeply personal for each individual. One of the hallmarks of the Yom Kippur liturgy are the ten confessions of sins we make throughout Yom Kippur’s five prayer services. These confessions are made in the plural which teaches us that though we may not have committed many or even most of the multitude of sins listed, someone in our community has, and we are to all assume responsibility for the wrongdoings of our community, so that we may collectively improve ourselves going forward. In the spirit of confession and owning up to the ways in which I have missed the mark this year, I humbly offer this kavanah—intention—as we go into Yom Kippur.
God, you created each and every living being in your image. We are to be partners with you in the constant act of creation, so that we might make your world a dwelling place for your presence. Far too often, we mess up, we go astray, and we miss the mark. We forget that those of your children who are not like us are your children. We do not see the divine soul that is within every human being. We project our fears, prejudices and preconceived notions onto others without taking the time to get to know them as the irreplaceable and whole individuals that they are.
God, there are so many ways in which I have missed the mark this year, not only in my relationship with you but in my interpersonal relationships as well. You give us this holiest of days so that we might put ourselves on the right track again, though we know that we will commit many of the transgressions we have in the past. We are deeply flawed, fallible individuals, but we strive each and every day to be better than we were yesterday. God, help me and all of us to learn from our mistakes and to be in the world with intention. Help me to do the hard, grueling work I need to recognize where I fall short, where my discomforts, uncertainties and fears lie, and please God, help me have the strength to acknowledge those weaknesses and to not project those fears onto others. Allow me to receive constructive rebuke well and with an open heart. Help me know how much I do not know and how much I have to learn from the teachers that are all around me. Allow me to be a vessel for a Torah of kindness and compassion. Help me build up and strengthen others, serve as a listening ear, a solid friend and a caring ally.
May this be a meaningful day for us all.