Jewish Journal

Yom Kippur

by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Posted on Sep. 20, 2001 at 8:00 pm

And now comes Yom Kippur. We watch in horror and pain as people search desperately for their loved ones. We mourn as body after body is removed from the rubble. Our hope for recovering survivors diminishes by the hour. Our eyes are full of tears, our hearts are full of pain, and our minds reel in disbelief. Did this really happen? We feel helpless. We can't undo what has been done. We feel rage. We long to wreak vengeance upon this loathsome enemy who has no borders, and no heart.

Some of us want to come to synagogue and shout, "Are You there, God? Why did You let this happen? What kind of Protector are You?" Some of us want to come to synagogue and cry, "Hear me, God, in my pain. Heal those who have been wounded. Comfort those in mourning. Spread Your love over the souls of all those whose lives were lost." When you stand in synagogue on Yom Kippur, don't hold back. Talk to God. Tell God your pain, express your anger, your gratitude, your fears. And listen for a reply.

The horrifying massacres of Sept. 11 have altered our nation's self-perception. These dark days have taught us that America is more vulnerable than we ever imagined. In our shock and despair, we have also learned how fragile our lives are, and how fleeting.

But Yom Kippur's message to each of us is this: You are much stronger than you ever imagined. That's what repentance means. It means that you are capable of more than you know. You can change, you can grow, you can heal. You can repair relationships that seem irreparable. You can rise above flaws that have hounded you for years. You are capable of acts of goodness that you never knew were inside you. In synagogue on Yom Kippur, take the time to delve deep within yourself and uncover what you need to repair this year. Then commit your body and soul to achieving it.

And this is Yom Kippur's message to America too: You are far stronger than you can possibly imagine. Your firefighters and police officers are more heroic than you ever knew. Your citizens are more courageous and compassionate than you ever guessed. Your leaders are capable of unity. Your suffering will heal, you will rebuild your ruins, you will regain your prosperity, you will restore your security.

Sometimes people complain that Judaism is out of touch, that its ancient wisdom has no bearing on today's world. To them I offer these words of the Haftorah from the Prophet Isaiah, which, for generations, Jews have chanted each Yom Kippur morning:

... I will lead them, I will comfort them and their mourners. I will bring peace to far and near, says God.... But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot rest; its waters toss up rubbish and mud. There is no peace, says God, for the wicked.... The cleansing light will break forth like the dawn, and your wounds will be healed. Your triumph will go before you, and God's glory will be your rear guard...And you will rebuild ancient ruins, restoring old foundations. You will be called the rebuilder of broken walls, the restorer of dwelling places.... This is God's promise.

Let this be a good year, God. A year of healing, a year of blessing, a year of peace. Amen.

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