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May we enter Yom Kippur whole and take our leave from Yom Kippur whole

Yom Kippur is both the most hopeful and most difficult Jewish day of the year. On the one hand, it rings
out and is filled with hope because it asserts we can change. The whole idea of Teshuvah, of repentance,
is that we are not prisoners of our past, of the scripts that we and our parents and families have written
for us. We are capable of writing our own entries in the Book of Life. With introspection and prayer, we
are capable of asserting our ability to choose and break free from our self-made prisons and traps. A
pattern of hurt over years only feels like a straight jacket; the promise of Yom Kippur is that we can
release those bonds.
At the same time, it is the most difficult day of the Jewish year. On it we say: we are free people, able to
create the self. Yet we know making one change may be easy, but changing our whole selves is
incredibly hard. We see the possibility, but the work feels overwhelming. And as a result of this
seductive lie of the evil urge, we never even set out.
I believe Yom Kippur challenges us even as it frees us. I believe that we are meant to face the day with
fear and trembling, with a sense that this is a sacred opportunity to finally escape the behaviors and
bonds that keep me from joy and love. I believe we are supposed to dig into the work, to start, even
though we know in our hearts that we cannot finish it.

The practices of Yom Kippur are there to help us in this work. We are commanded:

1. To fast. To neither eat nor drink for the 25 hours of Yom Kippur.
2. To refrain from marital relations, from wearing jewelry or makeup, and from wearing leather.
We have no adornments but rather come before God in humility.
3. And to wear white. We wear white both as a humility act- to wear simple white garments- and
to emulate the words of Isaiah that we can be cleansed white as the driven snow.

During Yom Kippur itself, something changes. Some time in the afternoon, as the gates are closing, we
encounter something. Having set out, having worked to free ourselves, we encounter something that is
forgiving and loving. Perhaps it is the energy of a community together in prayer and fasting. Perhaps it is
an encounter with God. The cleansing, the kappara of Yom Kippur, takes place. The Gates are closing,
and it is not us but God who rushes out to wash us clean like the driven snow.
I often feel an overwhelming joy as Yom Kippur ends. I look out as we sing Avinu Malkeynu together,
urgently hoping for a good year. A year in which so much that is broken might finally be healed. A year
of health, of thriving for us and the people we love. Something about that sincerity elevates me and it
feels as though something of God rushes in and washes over all of us. So I leave feeling lifted up,
realizing that I am created in God’s image. I have the power to create myself and I am doing it. I can heal
and I can help others heal as well.
I invite you to do the work, to dig in and see how you can escape the fetters of your own self-damaging
behavior this year and emerge a better person. I believe that when we do this work, however
incomplete it may be, we are met half way and lifted up further than we ever could have imagined.

May we all be inscribed for a good year!
Rabbi David Booth

Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784