There is so much to think about this year. It does seem that, with every passing year, the issues of the world seem graver, the challenges of life seem so much more complicated. For so many of our generation, we will gather for services for Yom Kippur beset with concerns regarding our own future and that of our family. How shall we manage to deal with changing life situations of a parent, or a spouse or child? How do we face the gradual, yet real changes in our own body? How do we not loose our own “self”? We cannot know, any of us, what this year 5776 will bring. We do know that the stakes get higher, the consequences of the choices we make get more complex. Maybe that is why we will read again the portion of Torah known as “Nitzavim”, that has in it the message that we need to be mindful of what and how we choose.
I was watching an interview recently that focused on the surge in refugees and the challenge of homeless individuals. The discussion alluded to the issue of so many people who are literally searching for their identity. How coincidental that Yom Kippur falls during this crises! How many of us will spend some of the the day also looking for who we really are? That fast, that so many do, is symbolic of this search. It asks us to strip away the normnal routine of life and, for a brief moment in time, focus on who and what we are and who and what we wish to be. Now that can be scary. Just look at Jonah.
A shame of the services in Yom Kippur is that Jonah is read in the afternoon. It should be front and center, for Jonah symbolizes an aspect of human nature that many share: the retreat from who we really are and, in many ways, who we wish to be. Jonah hops a boat rather than fulfill his mission and never quite “gets” that mission. How many of us also run from what we really wish to be? There is always a reason: family, career, care-giving, too old, etc. All of these are very real and very true reasons. But, all of these reasons are not unchanging. We all have the opportunity to seek our own true self and the reality of our own aging is that these opportunities are starting to get less and less.
On Rosh Hoshonnah, the symbolic Book of Life is open. On Yom Kippur, that book is sealed for the coming year. The symbolism of that Book of Life is very meaningful. The Midrash tells us that right now, at the beginning of 5776, our scroll or Book of Life is clean, open to the future. We begin to write this next chapter of our life’s journey now. What and how we choose in this year does determine our fate and the type of life we can live. The Gates of Judgement close as Yom Kippur ends. What the liturgy is telling us, I believe, is that the time for change and growth is now. Follow your soul and your instincts so that this new year is one of meaning and fulfillment.
May you and your family and friends be inscribed for a year of health, and joy and peace.
Rabbi Richard F. Address