Go ahead, ask someone. Ask what comes to mind when contemplating the holiday of Yom Kippur. For starters, many will probably question, “What kind of holiday is this?” A fast day, most certainly! A holy, spiritual day, yes. But a holiday? No way!” Holidays are about eating delicious meals with family and friends, getting together and enjoying each other’s company, and perhaps going to shul/synagogue a bit. Even on Rosh Hashanah, despite the lengthy prayer service, there are great kiddushes and four festive meals spread over two days. Most people view Yom Kippur as a very serious, awe-filled time. No eating, drinking, bathing or even wearing leather shoes. Just a day filled with seriousness and prayer. Lots of prayer. A whole day’s worth!
The truth of the matter is that Yom Kippur does have the above-mentioned serious aspects. It is a fast day, so no eating or drinking. There is a level of “affliction” that the Torah prescribes, so that not only are we commanded to fast on this one day a year (the other fast days in the Jewish calendar are all of rabbinic origin), but we also refrain from certain other pleasures. We strive to minimize the physical and accent the spiritual, and thus find ourselves involved in prayer for a majority of the day. However, by no means does this capture the essence of the Yom Kippur!
How many CEO’s, heads of companies or even households would like to wipe their financial slate clean and start over again? How many people out there want nothing more than a second chance to prove themselves? For most people, the opportunity for a completely fresh start is more a cherished dream than a reality. After all, we live in a world where our actions have very real ramifications, and it is almost, if not utterly, impossible to totally undo our past and start over with an unblemished record.
Now imagine that one day someone offers a chance for a totally fresh start. A completely clear history. No holdovers or baggage of any sort to bring along. A 100% new beginning. How much would that be worth? It would be priceless! It is something that money simply can’t buy.
Yom Kippur is that magical day. Hashem gave us the most incredible gift – teshuvah – the ability to wipe the slate clean and start over again. For real. No gimmicks or catches. Hashem, as Creator and Master of the world, is not bound by the limitations that constrain us human beings in our physical existence. Although there may be no turning back or reversing certain things in the finite physical realm, in the eternal spiritual realm, when one properly utilizes the gift of teshuvah, total renewal and a fresh new slate are a very real possibility and reality! The opportunity is there. Through the four-step process of: 1. Regret, 2. Vidui – confessing our misdeeds to Hashem, 3. Ceasing to commit a particular sin, and 4. Commitment not to return to that sin again, we can and do wipe the slate clear! Through that process, we “immerse” ourselves in the spiritually cleansing “waters” of Yom Kippur and emerge pure, ready for a fresh new start.
The name Yom Kippur, our Sages teach us, can be understood as “the day like Purim”: Just as Purim is the time when the Jews returned to Hashem and created a brand new relationship with Him, so too, on Yom Kippur, we have the same power of return and renewal. But the Sages also had something else in mind. Just as Purim is a most joyous day, so too, Yom Kippur should be viewed as a happy (though also momentous) day. After all, Yom Kippur has that special purifying quality and invaluable gift of repentance that money just can’t buy!
Wishing you a G’mar Chasimah Tovah!