By Rabbi Daniel Bortz
There are some things that we as Jews make a special effort to be involved in. One of those is attending Yom Kippur services. The fasting and lengthy prayers aren’t easy, but we know it’s the holiest day of the year, a time to exercise our Jewish connection. While I greatly admire our steadfast commitment every year, there’s something that saddens me.
Judaism is meant to be joyful and full of celebration. The whole point of being spiritual is to bring that experience afterwards into the physical. Infusing the material world with the Divine is the loftiest expression of G-d. To stop our Jewish experience at the end of Yom Kippur would be a shame. The Hebrew name for Yom Kippur, “Yom Hakippurim,” can literally mean “A day like Purim.” The celebratory Purim full of feasting and celebration in some sense is loftier than the fasting of Yom Kippur. We are meant to bring heaven down to earth.
During the ancient Temple times in Jerusalem, on Yom Kippur (the holiest day) the Kohen Gadol (holiest person), fasting and dressed in special clothing, would enter the Holy of Holies alone to perform the service and ask forgiveness for all, including the placement of incense. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of the Chabad movement) teaches that G-d’s Infinite presence rested in the cloud of smoke from his incense. He further teaches that this Divine revelation manifests itself in the schach leaves above every Jew’s Sukkah on the holiday of Sukkot.
This means that the most exclusive holy experience on Yom Kippur can be experienced by all of us for eight days together, feasting and rejoicing under the Sukkah, and dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.
The ultimate purpose of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is to awaken us to infuse our physical activities with an elevated purpose and Divine awareness during the year. G-d desires to be included in our homes and daily way of life, in our joys and celebrations. Not to be thought of only as a Judge and King, that to connect with must be prefaced only by lengthy prayer and fasting.
Yom Kippur is still, indeed, the holiest day of the year. It’s powerful that we appreciate it as such and take full advantage of it. But even this day is simply an amazing opportunity for intimate connection with our Maker. Judaism isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship. It’s a marriage. Yes, every relationship needs at least one day when the two are fully focused on one another and nothing else. But the purpose of that special day is to bring its energy and intention into the other 364 days, through every day little actions of love. There are so many beautiful opportunities throughout the Jewish calendar to connect.
May this special month of Tishrei with the high holidays inspire us this year to find joyful opportunities to connect and grow, celebrating Shabbat, the holidays, and our everyday lives with renewed happiness and purpose.