Loud and Soft: Stepping Toward Yom Kippur



I inhale. I exhale. Good comes in. Extra goes out. The rhythm of waves, of winds, of life’s breath, itself, builds on this patterning, on this configuration of converse energies. As we approach Yom Kippur, the holiest, happiest day of our year, we necessarily participate in the recreation of ourselves from such opposites. Loud and soft. Loud and soft.


Loud. We implore HaKodesh Baruchu to forgive us. We tried or didn’t try to make teshuva. We were aware or we were unaware of our slipping away from good options toward less desirable ones. We cared or didn’t care if we improved ourselves. Despite all of our slip-sliding around, we want to live. We want to carry on. We want to go on inhaling and exhaling. So, with all of our might, we beg for the chance to do so.


Soft. Often, with seemingly minor amounts of energy, we try to repair the damage we have done to each other. We call, send an email, or seek a friend out so we can offer a face-to-face apology. Even when we expend fewer resources toward fixing than toward breaking, we try to squash our egos, to reform ourselves into egos small enough to acknowledge, in the least, that we might, maybe, possibly, have been wrong and that we want to make over ourselves, that we want to take responsibility for modifications, and that we plan to implement them, immediately, in our interpersonal communication, in our relationships.


Loud. We cry. We beat our chests. We kneel on the floor in prostration. We point to ourselves literally, and figuratively, as repentant. We know our relationship with our Maker, too, has been less than right.


Soft. We think about the merit forgiving another human being might add to the world. We consider how we can sanctify the name of Hashem, how we can contribute to His plan by being okay with, by losing our anger and resentment over, another person’s lapses. We can’t let it matter so much that others failed to meet our expectation, that they failed to make amends for the hurts with which they showered us, or that they lacked awareness that their hurts impacted us or how much damage that impact caused. We need to release our feelings regarding everyone else’s stuff. 


Such a mental state is a high level to which to aspire, but we ought to try to reach it, anyway. Otherwise, if we persist on being adamant that our perspective, tact, method, what-have-you is the (only) right one, we will remain very much alone. It’s easy to admit we want to be reassured that Tatty in Shamayim will stay by us. It’s more difficult to admit that we want to be reassured that our human companions will continue to dwell by us, too.


Loud. The shofar cries, wakening our higher selves by speaking to our lower ones. The ram caught in the thicket, to replace human sacrifice, the sound of breaking glass, to substitute for torn flesh, the cry of a human instrument to pierce heavenly barriers; all are pedestrian stepping stools to exceptional change. We can overcome our shortcomings.


Soft. We reflect. Somewhere, in each of our souls, we accept that something or another in which we engaged, about which we spoke, or concerning which we thought, was stinky. We are not the goodie-goodies we wish we were, but are works in progress. The only faultlessness is, was, and ever will be that of The Boss.


Loud. Our hearts beat. Our breath comes in snagged streams; we gag, not for want of oxygen, but for want of opportunity to transform ourselves before His books are sealed and our mazel, for a full year, is determined. Please Hashem, we whisper, not on our merits, which are limited, but out of Your chesed, please inscribe us for all manners of good things. From Your vast kindness, not from our petty virtues, please grant us a full cornucopia of blessings. We want life. We want health. We want prosperity. We want peace.


Soft. We want so much more. We struggle to believe that given our inadequacies the Almighty will be benevolent. Our faith is tested. Our trust is stretched. We were not benevolent. We slandered. We stole. We were involved in many bad moments, only some of which we regretted when we were involved in them, and only some of which we recanted even during these Yomim Noraim. In fact, Dear G-d, most of us struggle to want feel remorse over our flaws; we’re still comfortable with them.


Loud. The sun drops in the sky. Our chance to appeal to Hashem’s compassion diminishes. We know pain. We feel stress. We somaticize, through the bodies, which The Aibishter loaned us, the many ills for which we mistakenly used our neshemot to bring into the world. In letting the poison of our souls effect our bodies, too, we err, again. Our transgressions need to become ladders to our Father, not tools of self-flagellation.


Soft. We entreat more. Only our prayer books and the voices of those individuals leading our services lift us. There is no more time to give charity before the end of Yom Kippur. There is no more time to enact additional instances of loving kindness before the end of Yom Kippur. At once, we are used up and newly born. As we experience our faults, we reach out to Hashem for our renewal.


Loud. The final shofar blast ends our marathon of repentance. We remain standing. Literally. Figuratively. There’s no rush to break our fasts; Ma’ariv is a welcome interlude between being spiritual paupers and returning to commonplace concerns. A few more verses of supplication taste so much better than does juice or cake.


Soft. Another year is here. The stars sprinkle the sky with far away light.  We smile at friend as we leave schul, weaker from our appeals than from our drooping blood sugar.

After our meal, we begin to assemble our sukkahs. We act on the hope that we were once more forgiven, that we can once more devote our inner stores toward simple, earthly concerns like structure and ornament, family and friends, that our imperfect service is accepted as a perfect sacrifice.


Loud and soft. The days and the nights of the New Year get inhaled and exhaled. They ebb and flow. In the coming days and months, we will make good choices and we will make bad choices. We will live as humans, breathing in and exhaling those opposites.