(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
On Yom Kippur, we will all stand in synagogues; all of us together – but also each and every one of us individually.
We will stand before G-d, open our hearts and refresh the personal, intimate, unique relationship each of us has with G-d.
Truth be told, it is better not to go into Yom Kippur without preparing for it. The transition from our stressed, overloaded, complicated daily lives to the experience of standing before G-d with an open heart – is a transition that necessitates preparation and introspection. Let us look at some of the words from the special prayers of Yom Kippur and through them try to focus on one of the meanings of this sacred day; a day that the entire spectrum of the Jewish nation unanimously holds as holy.
During the Neila prayer with which we end Yom Kippur, it says: “You set man apart from the beginning and You considered him worthy to stand before You, for who can tell You what to do, and if he is righteous what can he give You?... And may You, with Your abundant mercy, have mercy on us, because You do not desire the world’s destruction... You favor the repentance of the wicked...”
These words provide us with a special description of man’s situation in the reality that surrounds him; a description that on regular days we sometimes forget, and exactly for that reason we stand on Yom Kippur and remember it. This description, it might be said, encompasses the foundations of the Jewish concept learned from the Bible.
Let us examine this: An objective look at the world that G-d created shows us that the world is not perfect. This fact alone is enough to make us uncomfortable, and all religions deal with it differently. Judaism draws from this fact the far-reaching and infinitely significant conclusion that man has the responsibility to be a partner of G-d’s and to repair the world, a concept known as tikkun olam. In the prayer “Aleinu leshabeah” said at the conclusion of each prayer service, we declare: “Therefore we put our hope in You, Hashem our G-d... to perfect the universe through the Almighty’s sovereignty.” Tikkun olam, repairing or perfecting the world, is man’s most important mission.
There are many ways to do tikkun olam.
There is repair of faith, repair of nature, repair of quality of life, repair of relationships.
The list of things in need of repair is very long, and it is not that each person has the pretentious mission to correct all of the problems in the world. But the basic layer of cooperative tikkun is shared by all of humanity, and from here on, each person chooses the area in which he can and wants to repair the world in the best possible way.
Do we succeed in fulfilling this mission? Actually, if G-d were to ask our advice, it is doubtful that we would recommend He choose man as His partner in tikkun olam. But what may seem in our human eyes as a disadvantage is seen in G-d’s limitless vision as an advantage. When we choose a partner in business, we search for one who will carry out his job most successfully. But when G-d chooses a partner in “business” – for tikkun olam – He chooses whoever can act freely, with free will. Man is the only creature who can choose goodness consciously and with an honest heart. Therefore man is worthy of being G-d’s partner.
Nevertheless, a partner is supposed to do his job. Does humanity indeed fulfill its mission? To a large extent, the answer is affirmative. But on the other hand, there are stumbles and regressions. For this reason, we were given Yom Kippur.
On this day, we have an opportunity to renew the connection, refresh the partnership, establish the commitment. On this day, we stand without masks before G-d and declare our deep desire to be partners in tikkun olam; a desire that has the power to overcome all the other temptations around us.
And G-d, merciful and gracious, accepts our declaration and bequeaths us another year of life; a year during which if we focus correctly and make sure not to forget our lofty, moral purpose, we will join with G-d to create a more virtuous, more profound, and better world.
The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.