A unifying fast

Only by gathering together can we achieve collective atonement.

October 10, 2005 19:14
3 minute read.


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On Yom Kippur there are two types of atonement: individual atonement and an atonement for the entire Jewish People. This, however, was relevant only when there was a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) at the time of the first and second Temples. In the Temple era, atonement for the entire People was characterized by the burning of incense inside the holy of holies, the most sacred place, by the Cohen Gadol, the most sacred man, on Yom Kippur, the most sacred day. The incense was composed of different spices that were ground so finely and mixed so thoroughly that each lost its individual smell. As a result, there was a complete blending of the various smells. One of the spices, helbana, had a bad smell. However, once mixed, the helbana lent the incense a special smell. Our sages saw in this a clue to understanding the expiation of the individual. Metaphorically, a person who has sinned gives off a bad odor. But if that individual identifies with the Jewish People, a change takes place. Expiation of sins is granted to the individual by virtue of identification with the Jewish People, whose norms inevitably influence the individual, either consciously or unconsciously. That was how it worked in the Temple era, when that holy place stood in the heart of the Land of Israel and in the heart of the Jewish People. Today, there is no Temple and there is no Kohen Gadol. Atonement is primarily personal and is therefore only effective if the individual is repentant. Today’s atonement is different from the atonement in the Temple era; but not completely. Today we are also obligated to see ourselves as part of Klal Yisrael. The individual should not be a recluse on Yom Kippur, he should feel part of the Jewish People. The state stops working, and Jews everywhere secular and religious go to synagogue. On that day, every Jew feels solidarity with the People. Many secular Jews fast because they identify with Klal Yisrael. Yom Kippur strengthens Jewish identity and tightens connections despite objective ideological and cultural differences. The Fast rejuvenates ties among Jews. When someone eats he fills his own stomach. But when he fasts, he rises above his bodily needs. Yom Kippur is a day of social sensitivity, which is why it does not expiate one’s sins until one conciliates. The Fast has another effect. On that one day a year, someone who is satiated all year knows what it feels like to be hungry for bread. The socioeconomic disparity requires us all to make an account of our actions. It has been a difficult year; a year not just of disengagement from parts of our homeland, but also a breaking with one another. There is a need to heal the wounds of the nation after being on the verge of fratricidal warfare. But before any political rapprochement, we must s olve the plight of the evacuated. Most of them are still in tents and hotels without a a decent solution. They had lived as viable communities and it is our duty to return them to communities. They were sent to Gaza by the governments of Israel, both right-wing and left-wing. The present government must deal with these people sensitively and find a solution for those without housing. Caring for the poor and the hurt is a central message of Yom Kippur. As we read in the Haftara (Isaiah 58): “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and to bring the poor that are cast out to your house?” The writer is chief rabbi of Ramat Gan

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