These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Let’s Relate

Posted on September 13, 2013 by Naomi Bilmes

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From my blog:

This week was my first full week of class at Pardes, leaving me with less of some things and more of others.

More: Learning. Torah. Prayer. Introductions. Re-acquaintances. Texts.

Less: Free Time. Energy. Mental Focus.

If you haven’t heard from me recently, I’m truly sorry about that. Adjusting to my new schedule will hopefully get easier, and I will be more efficient about emailing, Skyping and calling.

What prompts my post today, however, is that today is the day before Yom Kippur. I do not have an inspiring religious speech to offer you all, nor am I going to post my sins/ crimes/ blasphemies and apologize for all of them publicly (sorry to disappoint.) What I will share, however, is what I have been up to today.

1. Cleaning

2. Writing emails

That’s it? Why am I reading this post just to find out that she did two things today that she could have done any other day?

Because these two activities happen to have some significance for me on this pre-Yom Kippur day. The cleaning – well, maybe that’s obvious. Yom Kippur is all about being spiritually, ritually, and metaphorically clean. And it’s much easier to do that if my outer world mirrors what my inner reality is supposed to be. I woke up with a zealous compunction to change my sheets, do laundry, tidy my room, take out the trash, and spray the kitchen with all manner of dirt-obliterating chemicals. I also made good use of the dust-buster I bought a few weeks ago. Now, however, instead of enjoying the cleanliness of the kitchen, I am in my room with the door closed, hiding from the living room that one of my flatmates said he would clean later in the day. It’s taking all of my obsessive-compulsive resistance not to just do it myself.

There is nothing I like better than going into a Shabbat or a holiday with a clean apartment. Tomorrow is a Shabbat and a holiday – what an opportunity! Logically, having a clean space gives me a sense of peace and control. Shabbat is a renowned day of peace. The upcoming holiday, Yom Kippur, is a day when control is hard to find: control over my body, my prayers, and my fate all operate on a sliding scale on this day. I don’t have complete control over any of these things,which is what makes the holiday so fearsome. Whatever my body decides to do, it will do. Whatever form my prayers take, so be it. And as for my fate – whatever is decided on this day, I have no way of knowing. I just have to let the day unfold. I take control today to relinquish it tomorrow.


So what about the emails? Well, before Yom Kippur, one is supposed to apologize to everyone he or she has hurt in the past year. One is supposed to ask for forgiveness. One is also supposed to give forgiveness.

To me, these customs seem to focus in on one thing: nurturing interpersonal relationships. To me, close relationships are the real purpose of a life, especially mine. The most meaningful moments I’ve had in the past week have been moments in which I help a friend, a friend helps me, or we laugh together in a moment of true honesty. Making my relationships the best they can be is an ongoing goal of mine. Which is why this period before Yom Kippur has a great deal of significance for me.

So I didn’t only send out emails of apology. I also sent out emails to people whom I haven’t spoken with recently as much as I would have liked, just letting them know that our relationship is still meaningful and will continue to be in the coming year.

And then I waved a chicken around my head.

Not really, but the intention was all there. Here’s to a year of cleanliness and deep relationships.