These and Those

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

Apocalypse, or Opportunity?

Posted on October 3, 2014 by Suzanne Hutt

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I’m not going to lie. The energy here in Jerusalem and at Pardes in the past 10 days has Suz Hutbeen rather high-stress. On the one hand, I think that it’s warranted, considering that the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are meant to be an intense time of reflection and reparation, a time in which the metaphorical Book of Life is opened and then inscribed. It is a time for evaluating the most important relationships in your life and thinking of how you can both make amends for the hurt you’ve caused people and also work to improve those relationships in the future.

On the other hand, I don’t think we need to look at Yom Kippur as quite so apocalyptic.
Hurry, do all your repentance now because this is the time to do it!
Think about what you want to change and vow to change it! Make the holiday count!
Go buy all the groceries you need today because the whole country will shut down for Yom Kippur!
The whole thing sounds a little like the Y2K scare.
Since I choose to view Yom Kippur as less apocalyptic and more of an opportunity built in to the Jewish calendar to reevaluate my actions and relationships, I decided to slow down, take a pause, and look through all of my class notes from the past month and pick out my favorite quotes related to Yom Kippur, in an effort to consolidate the many meaningful things my teachers have said in the past month. I’ve chosen 10 things – some direct quotes and some of my own paraphrasing of things my teachers have expressed – to represent the 10 days and their significance this holiday season. They share a similar theme – save for one, which I had to include for comedic relief.
1. Teshuva (translated most often as repentance, but which literally means to “return”) is not about fault or blame. It is about cleanliness. It means going through a cleansing process and recognizing that whether we sinned intentionally or inadvertently, we must make ourselves clean again.
2. Our understanding of the past is mostly about our present identity.
3. Yom Kippur is like an ocean that you immerse yourself in. You can’t help but get wet. But once you’re dry again, you have to ask yourself, have you really made a change?
4. Yom Kippur is about finding faith in yourself.
5. The first step in changing is believing that you actually can.
6. G-d is the Supreme Dentist, and Yom Kippur is our annual dentist’s appointment. We cram and cram leading up to it, brushing our teeth extra hard, flossing, using mouthwash, hoping to get a favorable judgment from the dentist. But what happens after? Do we return to our normal brushing habits? Is this going to be the year that I actually commit to flossing on a regular basis?
7. We can do teshuva out of fear or out of love. Out of fear means dissociating with the past entirely – from fear that we could relapse into old habits and sins. Out of love means carrying the past into the future – using any regret we feel in order to use those experiences to make a positive change in the future.
8. The story of Jonah (which we read on Yom Kippur) teaches us that G-d is merciful and gives second chances. And third chances, and fourth chances…
9. Our greatest weakness as humans is that we don’t know everything – we struggle, we make mistakes! But our greatest strength as humans is that we don’t know everything – we live in a state of not knowing, and that means we can be open to surprises, open to the possibility for change!

And finally,
10. Don’t store rice next to lentils!

May we all find this Yom Kippur to be restorative and meaningful, and may it set the tone for a more reflective year to come.