Yom Kippur is one day, one grand moment that you have got a lot of Jewish people coming together. This time more than any other seems to tug at the Jewish soul, it has a strange, bewitching hold on us – these 25 hours of starvation, serenity, serendipity, and opportunity.
If I had to pick a night that crystallised the power and purpose of Judaism, it would surely be this night, Kol Nidrei night, Yom Kippur.
It is also a night that highlights our fragility, reminding us that time is so very tenuous This is reflected in the piyyutim/prayer poems of the night like ‘ki hinei kachomer’and its reminder that we are like clay in the potter’s hand, mere dust and earth. We hold time and our lives it for such a brief moment in the sweep of eternity. Time slips through our fingers like fine thread, seeps out of our pockets quicker thanmoney.
What a perplexing paradox life is: so much freedom and choice, so many things beyond our making and choosing, somany opportunities full of power and potential.
Yom Kippur emphasises the existential vulnerability of humanity. The Musaf service pivots around the Avodah(Temple service) and the two hapless goats selected for the Temple service on Yom Kippur, the one is marked for God, the other for Azazel – a tall peak from which that goat was thrown to its destruction. Their destinies were decided by a “goral’ ‘the spin of the wheel, a throw of the dice.
We don’t get to choose our families and our fortunes, but we are given a little slice of life, a little “shtikel of opportunity” to make our own. Rav Soloveitchik says that’s the difference between fate and destiny, “beshert” and freedom. Fate is what happens to you. Destiny is what you make happen.
And seizing one’s destiny in that fraction of a moment can make all the difference.
And this is the secret of teshuvah and its promise we can change. This is the power of Yom Kippur!
“Carpe diem – grasp the moment”, or as Hillel famously put it: “If not now, then when?”. In other words we can make a difference in the lives of others, we can improve their wellbeing by acts of charity and goodness’ .
Don’t underestimate the power of small moments or the energy of tiny gestures. It may be giving that little bit extra to your shul; to that charity; that slice of your time to that voluntary work. It may be opening that conversation to your mum or dad, brother, or sister you haven’t spoken to for the past 10 years. It may be your spouse who you no longer know how to talk to, it may be that conversation you have been meaning to have with God for a while. It may be working on that stubborn area of your personality.
If not now, when?