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Yom Kippur 5775: Message of unity

Yom Kippur is often referred to as Yom haKadosh - the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It is a day when a Jew withdraws from the pleasures of this world to dedicate himself to spiritual renewal. It is a day spent in thought, contemplation and divine service. It is a Day of Atonement, spent in the synagogue in repentant and hopeful prayer.

The height of the Yom Kippur davening is undoubtedly the closing of the Neila service. Before the open Aron Kodesh, the community in unison declares its acceptance of ol malkhut Shamayim - the Heavenly yoke - by reciting "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem ehad" [Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one] once, "Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le-olam va-ed" [Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity] thrice, and "Hashem Hu haElokim" [God is the only God] seven times. The Shofar is then sounded, with all responding "leShana haBa'a beYeruhalayim – next year in Jerusalem." If acceptance of the Divine yoke is the only message of this culminating service, how do the shofar blast and the prayer for a return to Jerusalem fit in? Why is it that it is "leShana haBa'a beYeruhalayim" that echoes at the end of Yom Kippur and not necessarily "Shema Yisrael?"

Rabbi Yisrael Reisman suggests that the underlying theme of this culminating service is the centrality and importance of Ahdut, Jewish unity. Let us turn first to "Shema Yisrael" which appears in Sefer Devarim (Deut. 6:4). The entirety of this book is Moshe Rabbenu's spiritual last will and testament to klal Yisrael, now ready to enter the promised land without him. All of Israel stood before Moses and heard him declare the oneness and uniqueness of G-d - so central to the Jewish faith. And, as Yom Kippur comes to a close, we reenact this moment, proclaiming together the Almighty's unity. "Barukh Shem," according to tradition (Pesahim 56a), was recited by our forefather Jacob upon hearing his sons unanimous reaffirmation of their belief in the One G-d. "Hashem Hu haElokim! Hashem Hu haElokim!" was the spontaneous and undisputed declaration of the Nation of Israel when they saw the miracle of Elijah at Mount Carmel (Kings I, 18:39). And, finally, the shofar was heard trumpeting at Mt. Sinai as the Israelites joined united to receive the Creator's holy writ (Exodus 19:16, and Rashi to Exodus 19:2). As this holiest of days ebbs, we are bidden to relive these grand moments of unity, and pray for the coming of the Messiah when we shall return - reunited again - to a rebuilt Jerusalem.

Ahdut Am Yisrael is an easy message to espouse, but a much harder one to carry out in practice, particularly in our highly polarized society. "How can I love – even cooperate with - a fellow Jew," you ask, "when I despise much of what he stands for, be it religiously, politically or ethically." The key seems to lie in the story told in the Talmud (Berakhot 10a) about Rabbi Meir, who prayed for the death of certain Jewish hooligans who regularly tormented him. It was his scholarly and insightful wife Beruria who taught him to pray instead for the cessation of hooliganism. The message of Jewish brotherhood is that we are bidden to love our misguided fellow Jews as we would our misguided brothers or children - to distinguish between the individual and his actions. The task is not easy and requires us to attempt to focus on what binds us, the areas of agreement, rather than on what is in the divide.

The Rabbis teach us, and Josephus confirms, that the second Temple was ultimately destroyed because of sinat hinam – because needless hatred and discord weakened our fiber and tore us apart from within. Is our generation guilty of a similar oversight? Perhaps this Yom Kippur would be the appropriate day to contemplate on our national dissension, to rededicate ourselves to this ideal of ahdut – Jewish unity, and to pray for some creative solutions.

Ketiva vaHatima Tova to one and all.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick Professor of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan University; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

 

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Friday, 26 February 2021

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