You all think you come to shul to be inspired by the rabbi. Confession time: This rabbi arrives at Kol Nidrei to be inspired by you.
Yom Kippur is my favorite day of the year, hands down. I love the packed shul, the moving melodies and Neilah’s resounding Shema crescendo. More than anything, I love watching those who sit through the service without opening a book.
The cynics will tell you that it’s my job to be at shul on Yom Kippur, like it or not. I’ll say that I find every passage of the service poignant and meaningful. I don’t struggle through the fast because the spiritual experience invigorates me.
I’m there on Yom Kippur because I want to be.
You may also find Yom Kippur meaningful and inspiring. Or you may be one of those who attend out of obligation.
I know people who snicker at the once-a-year Jews. They believe that sitting in shul without reading the prayers misses the point of this special day.
Maybe they are the ones who have missed the plot.
A colleague once told me a poignant anecdote that a woman in his community had shared about her father. One Yom Kippur, when her father was still very young, he had accompanied his father to Shul. In the middle of the service, much to his father’s dismay, the youngster marched to the front of the shul and promptly did a handstand in front of the Ark. Mortified, his father hustled him back to his seat.
“What possessed you to do a handstand in front of the whole Shul on Yom Kippur?” the father demanded.
The boy replied simply: “You told me that we have to do something difficult on Yom Kippur. For me, that was difficult.”
Those of us who understand the liturgy and get involved in the service don’t find Yom Kippur difficult. We love it. Who knows if our Yom Kippur is really about commitment to G-d? It might well be self-serving. I like it, it inspires me, so I do it.
Anyone who arrives at shul because they “have to” rises to a personal challenge by doing so. If you cannot read Hebrew or don’t resonate with the prayers, you are not there for your own benefit; you’re there out of simple dedication to G-d. Dedication to G-d is worth infinitely more than feeling inspired.
I know I could never sit through an hour or more of an unrelatable event in a foreign language. Kudos to the Jew who is so committed to G-d that he does it every year.
As we approach Yom Kippur, I ask myself what I need to do to stand on my head in front of the ark this year. G-d treats us relatively to how we behave. Each year, I wonder what it would take to overturn my spiritual comfort zone this year. In case I don’t manage, G-d, please turn the tzurris of this past year on their head, in response to all those Jews who will be there standing on their heads this Yom Kippur.