Saturday, September 22, 2007

The High Holidays

Today is Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. A few days ago we celebrated Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year. This year is 5768 - theoretically we start to count from creation. The literal view (which in my experience very few Jews embrace) has a difficult time accounting for the age of fossils!

When I was young and attending a Jewish 'parochial' school in Winnipeg the High Holidays were a time to wander from synagogue to synagogue to see friends who were also wandering from synagogue to synagogue.

We spent very little time inside the synagogue praying.

I do remember that we always needed to hear the Shofar blow and that we were excluded from the service called Yizkor - the service to remember the dead. I imagined souls floating in the room as the prayers were being said.

Rosh Hashanah is also known as The Day of Remembrance. During this time we become introspective. How have we conducted our life to this point? How have we contributed? Have we done Tikkun Olam? What have we done that we are ashamed of? that we are proud of?

It is said that our fate - at least for the following year is written in the Book of Life during Rosh Hashana and that our fate is sealed on Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur The Day of Atonement - the holiest of holy days in Judaism - we fast and ask for forgiveness and we atone for our sins.

Judaism counts days from sundown to sunrise so last night at sundown was the beginning of Yom Kippur and it ends tonight at sundown (7:47 p.m. just in case you think I'm not counting the minutes until we break the fast!)

The key prayer chanted last night is called Kol Nidre - a powerful legal formula set to an amazing melody.

Kol Nidre has often been misconstrued. This is a translation of this prayer.

"All vows, obligations, oaths or anathemas, pledges of all names, which we have vowed, sworn, devoted, or bound ourselves to, from this day of atonement, until the next day of atonement (whose arrival we hope for in happiness) we repent, aforehand, of them all, they shall all be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, void and made of no effect; they shall not be binding, nor have any power; the vows shall not be reckoned as vows, the obligations shall not be obligatory, nor the oaths considered as oaths."

I (and most people) subscribe to the interpretation of this prayer as dealing only with the relationship between me and God. It has nothing to do with my relationship to other people.

It is said that Kol Nidre addresses oaths between me and God but that relations between people can only be healed through forgiveness. So at this time of year Jews will frequently ask forgiveness for any hurt they may have caused either inadvertently or on purpose.

I subscribe to a service called JBooks - it is a webmagazine for Jewish book reviews. This is part of an email I received from them the other day. The subject line was: JBooks Begs Your Forgiveness

"The subject line says it all: JBooks does indeed beg your forgiveness. We're serious about getting into the High Holiday spirit. If we have annoyed you with an insensitive quip, run a piece that offended your sensibilities (Jewish or Literary), or even slipped in the odd ugly typo: Sorry. The point of this site is to educate and entertain, and if there were moments last year when we failed to do so--you have our completely sincere apologies."

We will be breaking the fast at a friend's house. It is unusual for us not to host the break the fast meal but this year we will be going out.

Whether you are Jewish or not (if you're not Jewish think of the school year)I hope that this coming year brings you joy, allows you to keep your health and may your most fervent wish be the least that you receive.

And if I have offended or hurt anyone I beg your forgiveness


Blogger Jeanette said...

I find all religions have similarities. They are in fact simply a set of rituals around a principle of faith in some unknown. One of the rituals is that of trying to start anew at some high holiday of the year, vowing to love fellowman, be generous in thoughts and deeds, etc., etc.

While this is a great idea, it is unfortunate that the thoughts around the concept only last as long as the last crumbs of the celebratory meal do.

5:53 PM  

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