I can’t say I have the time to write an entire blog just before Yom Kippur, but I’ll try to say something here. The tshuva experience, the atonement experience, is really the essential one. We experience freedom and despair on other occasions of the year, but this one truly has the entire game riding on it. Jews have to make themselves believe that their intentions and sincerity must be genuine, or they won’t survive the year. We will pray together an otherwise unseen five times in a single day to support each other in this essential battle for our lives and our souls. It is the devout belief of so many that God may decree death for us over the coming year – not just condemnation without forgiveness.
In the years since I’ve come to Israel, I’ve been nervous going into this holiday. But surrounded by my brothers in Israel, I’ve also been incredibly focused. Each Yom Kippur was preceded by weeks of either excitement or fear. The years that followed these days truly reflected those attitudes in the run-up to the holiday. Perhaps something divine augmented the way I felt; or acted. But, assuredly, my own will power had something to do it.
Two years ago I prayed with a goal in mind. After a year of Yeshiva, I couldn’t help but be surrounded by messages of ethics and character building. I made Aliyah in order to catapult myself to a higher purpose. I repented with the goal of redeeming my brethren and our the Promised Land. I motivated myself to find someone to truly plant my feet in the soil. I focused on my mistakes and begged forgiveness for whatever errs I remembered having done. Within weeks I met my wife. That year saw me survive the gauntlet (of wedding preparations) to kindle that very sort of life.
But last year, maybe in the tailspin from the chaos of that very wedding, I didn’t focus as much as I had one year earlier. I couldn’t collect my thoughts. I wouldn’t concentrate on what I’d done, whatever it had been. I didn’t feel the same pain that day. I let myself relax and just told myself “to get through the day.” ”Fasting is enough” echoed in my mind. When the day ended and I tasted that first morsel – truly first morsel of the new year, I didn’t feel the relief of the year before. I felt fear; a fear I should have felt on Yom Kippur, not after it.
I battled financial and school issues throughout 5772. I couldn’t wait to escape. It wasn’t just because of my chaotic plans and first year marriage jitters that life gave me an onslaught of issues. Bureaucrats and phone companies double talked. School admins threw up roadblocks. Those brothers throughout the Promised Land suddenly seemed more divided and untrustworthy. Despite a sure amount of good people around me, I could not help but notice the aggravation that many of us cause each other.
This year, I see this more as the third act. Three years I have been in Israel. The first year I was focused. The second year I was broken. The third year is about rebuilding. I’m by no means completely back. I’m not totally who I want to be . . . yet. This coming year will take tremendous amount of strength and concentration. What gives me confidence for the new calendar is that I know this in advance. Like Joseph in the pit, never expecting to be there, he has no choice but to look toward the sky. It is not worth it to wallow forever. We all have no choice but to rebuild ourselves and climb out of the pit.
This is the gritty experience of moving to a new country. It’s the realizations we get when we suddenly find ourselves living independently in a sometimes unfair world. But it’s only as new and unfamiliar as we allow the country to be. It’s only as unfair and even corrupt as we let its most flawed citizens make it. This is a country that we can redeem. This is a people whose members can help to redeem each other.
I said in the beginning that Jews have to make themselves believe their intentions and sincerity have to be genuine or we would not survive. We have to believe it because it is true. Our focus, intent and goals will shape how we approach the world around us. Yom Kippur affords us the pressure to come to this realization. Yom Kippur isn’t out to get us. It exists to motivate us to climb out of the pit and rise to the occasion and confront the cards that life deals us.