If…then: A thought for Yom Kippur

Tonight is the start of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It is a day in which one seeks to clean the slate, begin anew, start a new chapter. But how exactly does that happen? Throughout the holiday a number of possible logical formulas emerge. Here are a few examples:

If one fasts, then they will be forgiven

If one repents, then they will be forgiven

If one prays, repents and has done acts of charity, then they will be forgiven

Each one of these options has some basis in Jewish thought and liturgy. However, these are very much external descriptions and do not present us with the underlying reason as to why these “if…then” syllogisms work or under what circumstances they might not.

Rabbi Eliezer Papo z”l, who led the Ladino speaking community of Bulgaria in the 19th C., argues “an element from the radiant influence of these holy days should extend to a person throughout the entire year…one should accept upon themselves to maintain their repentant conduct even after Yom Kippur”.

It might sound intuitive upon hearing it, but what Rabbi Papo states here is that Yom Kippur is not “a day”, rather, it is “the first day” of a year in which a person has taken upon themselves to take steps towards their best and truest self. While Rosh HaShanah might be the first day of the new year, Yom Kippur is “the first day” in which we show those around us and show God that we are worthy of forgiveness. It is “the first day” of a journey that will have set backs but even more leaps forward in our love for God and our fellows. It is “the first day” of a year in which our neshama (soul) shines brighter than ever.

So, what makes any of the “if…then” formulas of Kippur work or not? That depends on how we establish this “first day” and just as much, the decisions we make every day after.

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