..In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-RD. -Leviticus 16:29-30
Having been raised in the Jewish faith, attending services at Congregation Beth Torah (a Conservative synagogue) in Willingboro, NJ, Yom Kippur loomed large (and as a young child) sometimes forboding. The concept of ‘atoning for sins’, ‘ afflicting our souls’ and ‘being written in the Book of Life’ for another year, before the sun set on that day, puzzled and bewildered me. I wondered what I could have done that could have me cast out of the circle of love and acceptance into which I was born and what those I held close could have done to have lost God’s favor. My parents explained that it was more symbolic than literal, but they still recited the prayers that implied those things. What I did enjoy about this, considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, was time with my parents and sister. We would walk the mile or so from our home to the shul, in our finery (much like some Christians who wear nice Easter outfits), since many Jews don’t drive on Y0m Kippur. When I was younger, we would sit together, next to our mother and father, and as I had mentioned in the blog entry about Rosh Hashanah, I loved to lean into my dad and play with the fringes of his tallis (prayer shawl); such comfort there. As a teen, I sat in the back with my friends, as we were sometimes being ‘shushed’ by older members of the congregation, with fingers raised to lips and disapproving looks. We would duck outside and sit perched on the wall by the front door, chattering away about all kinds of things of interest to adolescents . I recall one rather embarressing situation at 13 or 14, when my father came out to look for me and asked me to come back in. One of the other girls rolled her eyes and commented (once my father had walked back through the wooden doors) that they were talking about “important things like boys and clothes” and “Edie has to go back to services.”, with a tssk tssk sound. At that moment, I felt like I was cast out of the realm of the cool kids to total nerd-dom. In retrospect, I can laugh at it, but at that moment, I did feel like my teenage soul was afflicted. I have to tell you that it took YEARS for me to forgive this girl for her humiliating comment, since I would experience an internal grrrrr each time I thought about that moment. The funny thing is, that when she and I actually re-connected in adulthood via the internet, and I did a ‘come clean’ with her and shared the experience, she said she didn’t recall the incident but did apologize for hurting my feelings all those years ago.
One of the most potent aspects of this holiday is the concept of forgiveness. We are called on to extend and accept forgiveness with those in our lives and the world in general. One of the prayers that I have modified to fit my more peaceful/compassionate sensibilities is called the Al Chet. ‘Chet’ is the Hebrew word for ‘sin’ and it translates to ‘missing the mark’ as in archery. There are many arrows with which we can aim at the intended target of goodness; whatever that may mean. I prefer to think of it as a ‘heart-board’ rather than dart board, to which we attract loving people and experiences. The prayer has us reciting all of the potential wrong-doings and then pounding on our hearts. I much prefer expressing individual regrets, resentments, judgments that I have held toward myself and others, whether or not I know them and then placing my hand on my heart and send it healing. We also fast, and in my mind, it is not depriving, but rather, cleansing and mindful.
One of my personal rituals that I have done since college, is sitting by a body of water, writing what it is I want to release, and then how I choose to step into the new year with open heart. A few years ago, I began a new one, reflecting my eclectic spiritual leanings. I carried with me, mala beads and as each of the 108 beads ran through my fingers, I thought of a person who had touched my life and sent them a blessing. I actually did it twice around, since so many faces appeared before me. Links in a daisy chain of love.
I will be heading out later today to engage in that experience and am eager to immerse in a sense of at-one-ment which is, to me, at the core of atonement…..a knowing of undeniable connection with a God who could never in a million years, abandon us and who showers us with goodness and mercy for the work-in-progress human beings that we are.
http://youtu.be/Kww33eLc6Cs Mercy -Dave Matthews Band