Yom Kippur 5781

Oh, so that is what I've been missing. Fascinating.

I went to Chabad for Yom Kippur. This was my first Orthodox Yom Kippur. (For that matter, this was my first non-Reform Yom Kippur.) I found it engaging and meaningful, though sometimes repetitive -- repetitions of the Amidah and Musaf besides can add up. On the other hand, since I am a slower reader than the leaders, it gave me a chance to read everything at least once, usually more than once.

The Kol Nidrei service (for the evening that starts Yom Kippur) seemed pretty familiar. Afterwards I paged through the Reform machzor that I borrowed, and if you cut out all the creative modern readings and such, the core is all there. (That surprised me; I expected the publishers to have taken more liberties.)

This was not true of the daytime services, though. Some differences I knew, of course: the Reform movement replaced the Avodah service (about the high priest's service in the temple on this day), they changed the torah reading, they shorten the confession (Al Cheit) and Avinu Malkeinu, they don't do the ten martyrs, and Reform never does the extra Musaf service. Other differences I didn't know about in advance, and I'd like to get a traditional machzor to study it more. (It felt like there was more to the sanctification of the day in the middle of the Amidah, for one thing.)

So, about that Avodah service, recounting the high priest's offerings, the two goats (one for God and one for Azazel), the details of the ritual, the saying of the divine name out loud... On one hand I kind of expected this to turn me off (never really got my head wrapped around the temple service and the desire to return to it). On another hand, I had Ishay Ribo's song on my mind as another interpretation. And on yet another hand (who says there can be only two?), I entered the whole thing in a spirit of being open to new experiences and wanting to see where that took me.

I, uh, found that part meaningful. I felt the power of it.

Also, I had no idea that that part in the song about going to the high priest's house to celebrate was part of the liturgy. I thought that was Ribo. Huh. And that reinforces what I assume is a goal of the day, and how I usually feel at the end -- that it is cause for happiness, that feeling that we've been judged favorably and given another chance (but not a foregone conclusion going in). Cause for celebration, indeed.

And this feeling at the end is especially gratifying after this past year, a pretty terrible year in large and small ways and one in which I had to decline to forgive several people. The things that were under my control, I remedied as best I could, imperfect though it be. The things that were not under my control, the hateful actions of unrepentant people way more powerful than I, I am finally beginning to be able to put behind me -- not forgiven (not without teshuva) but not weighing me down either. After Yom Kippur I feel better, and I'm grateful for that, even while knowing there are big problems in our society yet to tackle.

Yom Kippur services are long, but the leaders did what they could to move things along so people didn't have to be around other people any longer than necessary. There was no sermon, though the rabbi sprinkled small teachings into the service sometimes. He -- I assume this is a Chabad thing but I don't have other experiences to compare to -- was good about providing signposts and summaries of stuff as it was happening.

One of these little teachings was around one of the times through the Al Cheit, the list of sins (or ways we missed the mark, more literally). One of these is "for the sin we have committed through speech", referring to lashon hara, evil speech. He said in the name of the Alter Rebbe that it's hard to avoid speaking negatively -- you think the thought and you try to keep it inside but someday you're going to mess up and blurt it out. So what's the remedy? Fix it farther back -- work to not harbor those thoughts to begin with, and then you won't have stuff you have to worry about accidentally blurting out. Easier said than done of course, but a good thing to strive for.

Another thing I learned was in the part about the ten martyrs. I knew that there was this list of prominent sages who were martyred by Rome that are talked about in the service; I'd never seen the actual content because, as I said, Reform doesn't do that. What I didn't know is the part about how these ten were "payment" for Yosef's brothers. I don't know where this is from (maybe Yoma in the talmud? haven't looked yet), but according to our tradition, the ruler of Rome asked a prominent sage what the punishment is for kidnapping. He replied (correctly) that this is a death-penalty offense. And the Roman ruler said "aha, so Yosef's ten brothers who kidnapped him and sold him into slavery were never punished for it, so ten of you will stand in". And the sage (who was this? I don't remember, but someone important) asked God whether to submit or resist and God said submit so they did. I know a different passage about Moshe challenging God over this -- is this (specifically Akiva's death) the reward of torah, to be killed? -- and God tells him to shush. But I didn't know this one. (Well, if it's Yoma maybe my eyes have passed over it, but if so I failed to retain it.)

The health precautions were as for Rosh Hashana. I was able to stay well away from other people. Their attendance was low enough, compared to their normal Yom Kippur turnout, that this wasn't a problem. (They required reservations, so they would have known in advance if there were going to be a problem.)