Faces on Faith: As Yom Kippur approaches
The holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, begins on the evening of Sept. 15 this year and lasts until nightfall the following day. On Yom Kippur, Jews spend the entire day in contemplative prayer asking God to forgive us for our wrongdoings. It is a day on which those who are able observe a complete fast to concentrate completely on the vital tasks of self-examination and repentance.
One of my most precious possessions is a copy of the Talmudic tractate Kiddushin printed in Munich in 1946, the year I was born, on presses once used for Nazi propaganda. The Talmud is the vast compendium of Jewish law and folklore that, it is no understatement to say, enabled Judaism to survive and thrive after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 of the common era.
A Talmud printed on an erstwhile Nazi printing press is a powerful symbol that we can take what was bad and use it for good. We can repent of our thoughts and actions that we regret and appreciate the privilege we have to use our time and talent to become better people and help make the world a better place.
In this tractate we find one of the most uplifting of rabbinic teachings:
“Each of us should see ourselves as half innocent and half guilty, as though our good deeds and our bad deeds completely balance one another. If we then commit one good deed, we tip the scales in our favor!” (Page 40b)
What a marvelous metaphor! How wonderful a place would our world become if each of us went through life committed to making our next deed a good one.
My late and beloved Ulpan (intensive Hebrew language training) teacher, when I first studied in Jerusalem 50 years ago, Sarah Rothbard, used to say, “It is not just a gift for Jews that we created Yom Kippur. It is a gift for all humanity.”
Why? Because all of us, regardless of our religious beliefs, have talents and abilities, and our goal is to ask ourselves, “Am I using my particular gifts only for my own enrichment or enjoyment? Or do I — and if not can I — find ways to use these gifts for the benefit of others.”
It is a most appropriate question for each of us to ask at any time and, in particular, as the holiest day of the Jewish year draws near.
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is with the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.