In many ways, Yom Kippur is the easiest of all the Jewish. No special meal to prepare, nothing to build, no difficult Megilah to chant. Of course, in past years I would spend more than a month relearning and, hopefully, improving my chant of the entire four services, the Torah readings, the Haftorah, Yonah…. Well, that was a lot of work, especially for a non-singer like me, but if it were a “test”, it was, at least, an open-book one. The point being that even when I had to mount a “one-man show”, often leading a congregation with almost no background, when I had to provide intuitive evocations along with current content, my “job” had been done many times before and I was merely a participant in a long traditional role and I just had to plug into a pre-existing role.
The themes are ancient and have been described and discussed through the centuries. The solo performance of the Cohain Gadol, the High Priest, with his special sacrifices and once-a-year approach to and entrance into the Kodesh K’doshim, the Holy of Holies, a space/time- warp eternal center of the Universe housing the Aron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark, which contained, among other things, both the broken original and the intact copy of the Shnei Lukhot HaBrit, the two Tablets of Covenant, A physical remnant of the Infinite Energy of God transformed into the physical/rational of simple human words carved into the very physical matter of stone, the two-way dialogue between us, as human beings and the Infinite Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, detailing our responsibilities which we pledge in exchange for the opportunity to experience life on earth.
As abstract, cosmic and all engaging as those thoughts are, in past years l had a script to follow, one which at least included allusions to these themes. And the themes themselves, described and discussed both within the chag and in preparing my roles as leader, had become familiar, unfortunately, too often overly-familiar. Therefore as I worked to refine my understanding which was limited by this very repetition and exploration, I began to see a horizon where I would need to make several profound decisions.
Thus I find myself this year, as in the last several years, closely approaching that moment when weekday becomes, itself, Yom Kippur, a day when “all bets are off”, when we really have no idea how we will be evaluated in last years’ efforts and can only hope we’ll come out all right for the next year.
Approached this way, much of the past liturgy no longer directly addresses these issues. Albeit the comfort in these age-old melodies, the words and poetry too often no longer discuss nor lead me to where I hope to arrive, to a close and direct, intimate yet mysterious dialogue with The Creator about how I might best grow, conduct myself in this just-opening year, to add to the life energy and love of those around me, hopefully to be enhanced by theirs.
Before this day arrives, often well into it, I no longer even have the questions I need to ask. I can’t “create” the openness I’ll need to develop, can’t even imagine how any of it will feel. And as the time arrives, all I can do is enter with the kavana, aim or intention, that somehow I’ll ask the right questions, start down the right paths to give myself, and through myself others, the first steps this next year requires.
G’Mar Chatima Tova, may our provisional beginnings lead us to that divine intimacy where all that we are called up begins to be revealed.