Thursday, September 28, 2017

Yom Kippur's We

What is the most important word of the many, many words we offer on Yom Kippur? Is it Kol Nidre, whose haunting melody transcends the arcane, legal meaning of its words? Is it the Al Cheyt, in which we tirelessly enumerate the sins we may, or may not, have committed? We beat our chests and say, “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu…”

Is it the Unatenah Tokef prayer whose words evoke fear and trepidation: “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die…” but whose mellifluous tune uplifts our spirits? Is it the Avinu Malkeinu that reminds us of God’s awesome power but forgiving nature and whose concluding recitation marks the welcome relief that break fast is only minutes away?

It is far simpler than these lofty prayers suggest. It is not so complicated. It is the word “our.” In Hebrew it is not even a word. It is the “nu” attached to avinu and malkeinu located at the end of many words and found in countless prayers.

Lost in the dense liturgy of Yom Kippur is an affirmation of Judaism’s central tenet. We are bound to one another. We lock arms in the words of our prayers.

Over and over again we emphasize the collective “we.” Even when we recount our sins we offer them in the plural. Ashamnu! We are guilty. No one stands alone. All stand together. On Yom Kippur no one stands as an individual.

We can only approach God—together.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira taught: “The techniques available to a group are qualitatively different than what an individual can hope to attain.”

We approach God—together.

This is our strength. This is our foundation.

And this is what we emphasize over and over again on this, the holiest day of Yom Kippur.

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