Yesterday, amidst the spiritual high of Yom Kippur, I was struck, mostly by my almost-four-year-old with a rubber sword, but also by a poem wedged into the musaf (additional) service in the Ashkenazic liturgy.
Musaf of Yom Kippur, third of the five prayers of the day, is dominated by a recounting of the High Priest’s service in the Temple, followed by a series of dirges lamenting all the stuff we miss in our Templeless times. But in between the two series, we have a short paragraph talking about what Yom Kippur is in the modern era.
- A day on which eating is forbidden
- A day on which drinking is forbidden
- A day on which washing is forbidden
- A day on which anointing is forbidden
- A day on which having sex is forbidden
- A day on which wearing shoes is forbidden
- A day of establishing peace
- And friendship
- A day of abandoning envy
- And competition.
We might call these the Ten Commandments of Yom Kippur; after all, the Talmud (b. Ta’anit 30b) does say that this was the day on which Moses came down from Sinai with the Second Tablets.
We spend a lot of time agonizing about the first six; I think the closest the Jewish people came to civil war in the last decade was about #6 and the Crocs Heresy. But what about the final four? Those are not about abjuring, but adjuring. Instead of ignoring our personal needs and wants, we are commanded to engage with our neighbors.
Is it because it’s easier to stay away from snacks for 25 hours than snark? Maybe it’s because we’d rather ask people about how they’re fasting rather than how they’re doing. I wonder if any of my rabbinical colleagues have been asked if one may set up a snide remark, then come back and deliver the punchline nine minutes later?
The good thing about the “Second Tablet” of Yom Kippur is that we keep it going. There are no more fasts for the rest of the month, but there are plenty of occasions to rejoice, to welcome, to harmonize and to engage. There are many more situations in which we may forgo covetousness and contention. We spend a whole week as guests in our own homes, right before the rain and cold arrive. It’s almost like we’re trying to empathize with those who have no adequate shelter, or something.
I hope you had a good fast. But the experience on Yom Kippur should be just the beginning.