Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah-Yom Kippur

“Oh My, Rabbi! I just learned that today begins Yom Kippur! I need tickets! What time are services? You have services both tonight and tomorrow? Really? How much time do I really have to be there to make it count?”


You know, I get to have lots of these types of conversations with folks at this season. My colleagues have been recounting, on our listserv, many of the conversations brought to them this week. If one did not have perspective, these could be downright disheartening. So and so has an event where a whole team is counting on him to show up. Another is waiting for evidence that the building has been checked for Ebola. Another has to choose between a step-child’s birthday party and the morning service. Yes, it is easy to get exasperated. So many colleagues succumb to this temptation, but … call me polyanna-ish … I have to wonder why these people asked or said anything about the day. Why would they take the time to ask, even the inane question, when if they were really disinterested all they have to do is not show up? Are they really that dense? Are they really expecting our blessing?


You know the joke, a man goes to the rabbi and reminds the rabbi that kickoff for the big football game is during Yom Kippur services. “Rabbi, is it ok to video tape on Yom Kippur?” The rabbi says, that under the circumstances, it is, so long as he sets up the night before. The man responded, “Where in the sanctuary can I set up the camera?”


What I hear in these questions is a concern for the importance of the holiday. Maybe people don’t know what to do with the day. Maybe people don’t understand the full extent of the Holiday’s importance. Maybe we should not be so dismissive of those who present their questions in strange ways.


In a small southern Jewish community, a synagogue tried doing educational outreach. Every year (for about a decade), they set up their social hall with tables properly dressed for each holiday on the calendar. They would then welcome their non-Jewish neighbors in and share an educational experience on the meaning of each celebration. One night, in the midst of one such discussion, a guest who had been to many of these events asked a question, “How do you account for the Jews having killed Jesus?” The host was so upset that they shut the event down and had everyone leave.


As the recounted the story to me, years later, the synagogue members were proud of how they stood up to the hatred. I asked if they knew the person who questioned them. They affirmed. I asked if there had ever been cause to believe that this person was a hater? They admitted that there has been none. I suggested that perhaps the person had been plagued by this question for years, since they knew lots of “nice Jews,” and the accusations had made no sense, but they had no one that they felt close enough to, to ask … until this show of welcome.  Now,  having been thrown out, there is no telling what they thought!


The day after my Bar Mitzvah, the rabbi threw me out of “his” synagogue. I did not see God the same way he did, so in his eyes I must have been wrong. Obviously, it never dawned him … even if I was way off base … to have conversations with me to see whether or not there were things upon which we could agree. Maybe we should not be so dismissive of people who present their questions in strange ways.


Yom Kippur is a day for us to come to grips with reality–I think that we need to judge less and listen more … and listen with more openness and compassion. If we really believe that the world is worth saving, then we have to begin by believing that people really do want to do the right thing, even if they have no clue how to do it.


To the people who ask the tough questions, I want to thank them for being concerned. I want to ask them to be with us for any part of the day, and hope that the time that they are here makes them want to come back for more. (For the videotaping guy, I hope he watches the service when it fits his schedule and gets something out of it.)


I am not watering down faith, but I will not destroy it by turning people away on account of their own ignorance. The real world teaches us that a lot of people lost touch with tradition over the years. I can assure you that faith will never have value if, even in their twisted way of approaching a return, they get turned away.


Perhaps if more of us were more patient and engaging with each other, the day would have greater value for more people. In fact, if we treated everyday with more awareness and more grace towards each other, every day would provide greater cause for celebration.


Shabbat Shalom and … well, I can’t say “Happy Yom Kippur,” but I can pray that the day brings hope and healing for us all.