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Yom Kippur 5778 — 09/30/2017

Yom Kippur 5778 — 09/30/2017

  ut’shuvah ut’fillah utzedakah ma’avirin et ro’a hagezeirah

But repentance, prayer and charity can avert the negativity of the decree (from the liturgy)

We all know the pun (in English) on the name of our holiday – the Day of Atonement = Day of At-One-Ment.  According to, this pun is actually at the basis of the word’s etymology: from Middle English phrase “at onement” in harmony.  So the purpose of Yom Kippur is to restore Wholeness, Totality, Harmony to our lives and the life of the community (and the world).

The refrain that we quoted gives us three separate ways to create this harmony and thereby avert the negative consequences of a scattered existence.  I think we can describe the three as being descriptions of three levels of harmony, each more profound than the last.

T’shuvah (“repentance”) literally means “return.”  It is generally taken to mean the return of the individual (or in some cases of a group of individuals, as in the case of Nineveh, which we read about in the Haftarah of today’s Minchah service) to Gd.  I think it can also mean the return of the individuality to the Totality whence it sprang, as a wave settles down and becomes one with the ocean.  At this level, the individuality has been lost, merged into unity, and unity, the ocean, is all that is left.  This is a unity we can experience by allowing ourselves to transcend the processes of perceiving and thinking, but it is just the beginning of the growth of unity.

T’fillah is prayer.  The essence of prayer is our surrender to Gd in order to enter into an ever-closer relationship with Gd.  In this sense, I think t’fillah produces an even bigger Unity than t’shuvah.  We need to do t’shuvah first, to identify ourself with the unity that is our own transcendental nature, hidden deep inside us.  T’shuvah gets our own house in order, so that our quest for union with Gd has some valid basis on which to stand.  Having done t’shuvah, our t’fillah is no longer loaded down with the burden of sin/impurity that t’shuvah has washed away, and can truly serve as a vehicle to unite us with Gd.

Tzedakah is usually thought of as giving charity.  This is not the real meaning of the word however.  Charity comes from the Latin root caritas which means “dear,” or “caring.”  Tzedakah is better translated as “justice.”  A tzaddik is a perfectly righteous man, whose every action is 100% in accord with Gd’s Will.  When we give tzedakah we are doing much more than relieving the distress of the recipient (not that relieving someone’s distress is anything to sniff at).  We are correcting an imbalance in nature, redistributing the resources of creation so that it better reflects the perfection of the Creator.  This integration of the value of the eternal, unchanging nature of Gd into Gd’s ever-changing creation creates, as it were, a whole which is bigger than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps the creation of this greater wholeness is the underlying reason  for Gd’s having created a universe to begin with.

During the 10 days of t’shuvah culminating in Yom Kippur we are focused on t’shuvah, t’fillah, and tzedakah.  There is a value in understanding these in their plain sense.  We should be repenting our sins and resolving to do better.  We should be bringing new focus and new feeling to our prayers.  And we certainly should be giving of our time, our money and ourselves to make the world a better place.  But we always need to keep in mind the ultimate aim of all of these activities, and the ultimate aim of the self-perfection that they bring about – to create Wholeness throughout the Creation.

And easy and a meaningful fast!

G’mar Chatimah Tovah


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Yom Kippur: Every Day, Every Moment, Returning to Oneness, Fasting From Ignoring.

Yom Kippur is often translated as the “Day of Atonement” which people have begun to re-phrase as the “Day of At-Onement”.  For when we atone we repair a harm that we have done. And, in the fullest sense, we repair the harm we have done by ignoring the Oneness that is All, and we return to the Awareness that One is All.

“Yom” is usually translated as “day” but it has more meanings: for example, “a point of time,” “a period of time of unspecified length,” “a period of time of long but not unlimited length—an age, an epoch, a season.”

“Kippur” can be traced to the four different Hebrew roots, all spelled  “KPR”, and all with different meanings; hence, many different opportunities are available to create translations. From the standpoint that the purpose of Torah and the purpose of our religion and the purpose of our life is to return to awareness that One is All There Is and We Are This One, the two most appropriate meanings are: “to purge, repair” and “to cover.”  Actually, both are connected since when we repair our relation with Gd, we uncover, remove the cover, that has separated us.

And this is what we celebrate on Yom Kippur: repairing the separation, dissolving the separation, removing the cover that separates us.

At the surface level of Torah, we have a story of a particular people at a particular level of consciousness at a particular time. We honor the surface level of our life by obeying the moral laws, the do’s and don’t’s, stated literally and stated implicitly through the stories of success and failure.

But the purpose of Torah and our religion is not to stay on the surface but to fathom the full range, especially the Wholeness in which all levels are revealed, integrated, and Known to be streams and seas of One — which we Are.

The duality between us and Gd is, to me, a game Oneness plays, a story Oneness tells, always — it is the Nature of Oneness. It is a game we need to take seriously, but lightly, for our life depends on performing our roles properly. Yet, the reality is there is no separation between us and Gd: Gd is the Ocean of Oneness and we are the drops, but both are expressions of One.

So on Yom Kippur, we attune to every level of Torah we can and the sound of the Torah in Hebrew and in English helps us to do this. And we fast, not only from physical food, but from ignorance, we refrain from ignoring the Oneness that is All and we break-fast with a heightened level of Awareness of Who We and Gd Are: One and Only One.

And since every day and every moment is a “Yom”, every moment, every day, every space of time, can be — and we can make it be — a time of return, a time of “Kippur.”

This very moment!

Baruch HaShem