If I were to do an impromptu poll asking “What is the most important day of the year?” I daresay many of you might respond “Yom Kippur”. That answer would make sense, as it is a day spent in introspection. I would like to offer my thoughts on the most important day of the year, and the winning day is…the day after Yom Kippur. How could this be? It is not a holiday, there are no special rituals or observances connected with it and other than the need to recuperate from a day of fasting, there is nothing special about it. Precisely my point.
We would have spent the prior 25 hours fasting to promote a period of self-evaluation and seeking forgiveness from God and others for the sins we committed and the ways that we failed during the past year, in the hopes to continually improve ourselves. The litmus test for the efficacy of Yom Kippur is how we behave on the day after. If we continue on the same course that we have been travelling, with little or no change in our relationship to God and others, then what was the value of Yom Kippur? If, on the other hand, we have focused on a small set of things that we can do to become better people, then Yom Kippur has enabled us to reach a new point in our lives. If Yom Kippur did not exist, would we ever set aside time to evaluate our lives on a regular basis? Probably not. That is the brilliance of Yom Kippur – a day set aside for self-improvement that we would never schedule on our own. Imagine receiving a telephone call from friends inviting you to an event, and your response is: Sorry, but I can’t. That day is my self-evaluation day. That might be the last invitation you ever get from that group of friends. However, to have a day set aside for the entire Jewish community to do the same thing creates strong bonds between each of us and fosters an environment where we can authentically consider who we are in a supportive space where everyone is doing the same thing. No one feels embarrassed to beat his or her chest to confess “Ashamnu” because everyone is doing it.
I encourage you to take a moment after you read this to consider this question: How did Yom Kippur change me for this year? My hope is that the answer you can honestly give is “for the better”.