Jonathan’s d’var torah

Happy New Year and happy autumn!

I don’t know about you guys, but Yom Kippur is one of my favorite holidays. Now, that may come as a surprise to some of you. After all, I’m Jewish – I love to eat – and it’s much easier to not think about all of the bad things I’ve done this year. I think it’s safe to say that most of us would prefer to go breadless on Passover than foodless on Yom Kippur.

But here’s why Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, is one of my favorite holidays: it’s kind of like a bookend. You know when you’re at a library and you’re trying to return a book to its shelf, but then the whole row of books starts wobbling and toppling over? And then you try to angle the last book in such a way that it will hold the rest of them in place, but then that topples over? I know that for me, eventually I just throw my hands up in the air and say to myself, “whatever, someone will take care of it later.”

Having a bookend makes your life much easier. Instead of fumbling around, trying to get that row of books steady, the bookend literally straightens out your problem. It comes at the very end of the row, organizing that sea of knowledge contained within those pages, making them ready for the next time you need to access those books on the shelf.

To me, Yom Kippur is just like that bookend. It comes at the end of the year, and if you use it correctly, it can help you straighten out the row of books that was your life within the past year.  Sure, you can try to make-do without it, try to angle that last paperback book to anchor all of those hardcovers, but even if you do succeed, that row of books is unstable at best.

Similarly, you can try to ignore Yom Kippur. You can tell yourself that no forgiveness should be offered and no apologies need issuing, but you have to ask yourself: do you really want your bookshelf to look like that?  And is that how you want to leave your bookshelf for the future?

Yom Kippur is a time for tshuvah, or repentance. It’s a time for us to reflect on the past year and do a cheshbon ha-nefesh, or an “accounting of the soul.”

In the haftarah for Yom Kippur, we remember the story of Jonah who flees from his responsibility from God, and ultimately gets swallowed by a whale. This year, may we do tshuvah and clean up our side of the lawn before we get swallowed by our own inner whales.

As the leaves begin to change this autumn, let’s make a commitment to change with them on this Yom Kippur. Let’s make that “accounting of the soul” so we can regrow with the leaves later this year.

l’Shanah tovah.

given on September 23, 2015 by Jonathan Falco

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