Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, falls ten days after Rosh Hashanah. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the High Priest effected atonement for the entire people through an elaborate ritual. Today, in the absence of the Temple, each of us stands, alone, together, naked as it were, before God. Yom Kippur is the dramatic culmination of the entire season of teshuvah, repentance. On Yom Kippur, Jews abstain from eating, drinking, bathing, sexual relations, and the wearing of leather (a sign of luxury) for 25 hours. Jews dress in white and traditionally spend most of the day in synagogue.
I have said the words of the Yom Kippur Vidui many times, always awkwardly aware that most of the list of sins did not apply to me. I never thought I would come to embrace its awkwardness, and I certainly never imagined that it could guide me toward making decisions I was afraid to make.
Two years ago, at age 93, my father passed away suddenly and peacefully in Israel, where he had lived for many years. I flew to Israel for the funeral and the first half of shiva, sitting the second...
When I think and talk about teshuvah, I usually focus on change. How can we take stock of our lives and improve the parts of ourselves that we wish to change? This year I was struck by a different aspect of teshuvah. I realized that teshuvah doesn’t need to be focused solely on changing who we are. Teshuvah can also be about learning to accept and forgive ourselves, and learning how to embrace our abilities, limitations, bodies, and relationships.