Yom Kippur is the single holiest day of the Jewish year. It is a day of prayer, fasting, meditation, self-examination and deep introspection -- a day of moratorium on which we put aside all our normal activities and throw ourselves into the process of becoming one with God and the universe.
Yom Kippur falls on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri (Sept. 27 this year) and is the culmination of the High Holy Days. The Torah (Leviticus 23:32) states: "It shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; on the 10th day of the month, from evening to evening, you shall observe this your Sabbath."
This day is really different. It is a special kind of day off. When most people think of a day off, they think of taking it easy, relaxing. A day off implies vacation, but Yom Kippur is no vacation. It really is similar to taking inventory in a business. The store may be closed to the public on that day, but the people inside are still working hard. The process of taking stock requires serious attention. Yom Kippur is, in fact, a day of personal and spiritual inventory.
Self-exploration: On this holiest of days, we take the time to re-examine our lives and life itself. We ask questions, we pray, we try to come to terms with who we are. We wonder about our world and what role we play in it. We look at our world and wonder about the cruelty that we see in it. But, at the same time, we see a world that is filled with the potential of opportunity, with challenge, with hope and with love.
Life offers no guarantee of happiness nor are we granted assurance that it will be filled with excitement, interest, thrills or even abundance of years. Every day we have is a gift from God. What is life itself, but a loan from the one who creates all things?
On Yom Kippur we take time to savor life; to think and to plan; to repent and to forgive; to evaluate what has been; and to look forward realistically and hopefully. "Many people die," said Oliver W. Holmes, "with their music still in them." The reason? Sadly, the lives of some are mercilessly cut off before their time by illness or tragedy, as we witnessed last week. Too often, however, it is because they are always getting ready to live, and, before they know it, time runs out.
A hopeful, meaningful, optimistic, helpful, responsibility-filled view of life and the world: That is the message of Yom Kippur, and every Jew has the opportunity to make it happen.
XMuller is rabbi of Congregation Rodef Sholom.