“The tenth of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement for you. It is a holy holiday when you must fast and bring a fire offering to HaShem. Do not do any work on this day; it is a day of atonement, when you gain atonement before HaShem your God.”
Yom Kippur is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. It’s a day of fasting, of prayer. It’s a day when you pull into yourself and examine all the corners inside your mind and heart to search out the things you’ve done wrong to others and before God. And, when you find them, you repair them as best you can.
It’s a day of forgiveness – where you ask forgiveness from those you have wronged. It is not so much their job to forgive, as your job to ask forgiveness. And, once you have done your best with your family, friends, neighbors and all those around, you turn to God and say, “Look, I have asked forgiveness and I have forgiven. Please forgive me for the wrongs I’ve done before you.”
In the prayers of Yom Kippur, there is a long list of sins, of pride, of arrogance, or dishonesty, of speaking or thinking ill of others. No one has committed all of these sins and yet we all confess to them – it is a collective prayer for forgiveness. And even as we say this prayer, we have accepted the reality that not all will be forgiven, not all will go as we wish.
One of the most awesome prayers is simply a paragraph long. It sums up the day as simply as possible.
How many shall pass, and how many created: Who shall live and who shall die; Who in their time and who not in their time; Who by water And who by fire; Who by the sword. And who by a beast; Who by hunger And who by thirst; Who by disaster. And who by sickness; Who by strangling And who by stoning; Who will rest. And who will wander; Who will be go peacefully And who will go violently; Who will be calm. And who will be harried; Who will be poor; And who will be rich; Who will be degraded. And who will be exalted. By repentance, prayer and charity. Remove the evil of the decree.
Yom Kippur is a time when Israel as a whole pulls into itself. It is the one day a year that the international airport closes completely. Local television and radio stations shut down. Buses stop running throughout the country and certainly within the cities, there are few or no cars seen on the streets. For 25 hours, we concentrate only on the confines or our soul, both personal and national. We spend time with our friends, our family, our neighbors and think only of the day and what it means.
So, what does all this have to do with Elie and A Soldier’s Mother?
Elie isn’t home for Yom Kippur. I’m not sure if this is the first time this has happened, but it certainly is the hardest. He called a little while ago. For the most part, he’s in a good place. He’s on a base in the north and will sleep in a bed rather than out in the field. He sounded good and rested. They had just eaten lunch and would, in a few hours, begin the final meal before the fast.
Again his group was divided and some were allowed to go home. This means, if things stay quiet, that Elie will be able to come home again for the first days of Sukkot. But that’s beyond the fast and today we focus only on now. Elie told me that their vehicles and cannons are nearby, ready should the Syrians attempt to do now what they did in 1973, to attack Israel on the holiest day of the year. In the first hours of the Yom Kippur War, many young Israeli soldiers died because the better trained, reserve soldiers had been allowed to go home for the holiday and the standing army was all that stood between the Syrians and much of northern Israel.
Today it is different; the army is more reactive and the standing army better trained. I am beginning to think that the Syrians will make noise, perhaps demand something as meaningless as yet another United Nations vote condemning Israel (to add to the hundreds of other meaningless anti-Israel resolutions they have passed previously).
Hopefully, the soldiers in the north and the soldiers in the south, those standing on our borders and those protecting our cities, will have a quiet peaceful Yom Kippur. May the mothers of Israel have peace over the holiday to focus on their prayers without frantically worrying about where their sons and daughters are. May the fathers of Israel have peace over the holiday so that they too may think only of the solemn day and not worry about their children.
And may the God of Israel watch over all of us, from the start of the fast until the blast of the shofar. May He forgive us our sins and bless us with happiness and safety and peace – but most of all, with life.
Gamar Hatima Tova – May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a long and happy year.