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the most important day

09/28/2023 11:01:35 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I pray that your fasting on Yom Kippur was meaningful, and that you have entered 5784 recharged and presenting a new and improved version of yourself. Now comes the final examination. What was the day after Yom Kippur like? If it showed a glimmer of what is capable, then that is wonderful. If it didn’t? When queried, most Jews will answer that the most important day of the year is Yom Kippur, and from an observance point of view, they would be correct. But from a more practical point of view, I think that the most important day of the year is the day after Yom Kippur. We spent the Ten Days of Penitence seeking teshuvah with those that we wronged during the past year. We devoted all of Yom Kippur pleading with God to accept our teshuvah. What were we like on the day after Yom Kippur? I’ve annually raised this question, but I thought that an even greater source might be the prophet Isaiah. His words in the Haftarah recited the morning of Yom Kippur are powerful.

Is such the fast I desire, a day for people to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when the Lord is favorable? No, this the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to offer clothing and not to ignore your own kin. Then shall your light burst through like the dawn and your healing spring up quickly; your Vindicator shall march before you, the Presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Fasting is a means to action, as clearly demonstrated by the words of the prophet, and this is in keeping with the essence of Judaism. While we value study, it is a means towards action. Mitzvot are the vehicles through which we demonstrate that we have taken God’s teaching to heart, making His words our call to act. The sincerity of our teshuvah on Yom Kippur is not measured by our words on that day. Rather, it is how we behave the day after Yom Kippur. The way to demonstrate to God that we meant what we said is to bring our words alive through action. It is then that we can affirm that the time devoted to pray was meaningful. Fasting by itself is a means to an end; the deprivation of food and drink eliminates the attention paid to our physical needs in favor of our spiritual needs.

God knew that despite our best efforts, being human, we might not be at our best on Yom Kippur, and thus left the symbolic gates of prayer slightly ajar. While Sukkot is indeed a joyous festival, there is another element to it that might be overlooked. To use a sports metaphor, we are now in overtime. The results are still not in, and we are given the extra grace period until Hoshana Rabba (literally “great save”, a perfect sports phrase indeed!) to get our prayers through to God. We utilize the lulav and etrog as symbolic vehicles to help us bring our last chance prayers to God as we recite Hoshiah Nah – save us. This overtime is a very generous gift that we should use wisely. We should certainly celebrate the joy of Sukkot, but also integrate this last moment of prayer into our lives. It is rare that we get extra opportunities. May we use the time wisely. I look forward to celebrating Sukkot with you.

Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784