Rabbi David Wolpe: ‘Yom Kippur teaches eternity and fidelity’

AP Ultra-Orthodox Jews of the Hassidic sect Vizhnitz gather on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea as they participate in … Continued


Ultra-Orthodox Jews of the Hassidic sect Vizhnitz gather on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea as they participate in a Tashlich ceremony in Herzeliya, Israel, on Sept. 24, 2012.

On this day we repent. Each of us understands that we do not live up to our promise. Sometimes we are easy on ourselves, but we understand. A man once approached the Jewish theologian Heschel, and said “I don’t need God. I am a good man. I give to charity, I try not to hurt people. Why do I need God?” Heschel’s response was “I am delighted to hear it. I wish I could say the same. But I am always saying the wrong thing, hurting people in ways slight or substantial, doing less well than I ought. I need God.”On this day, we have high standards for ourselves, and we repent.

On this day we die. No one pronounces that horrible sentence on Yom Kippur but it is true. Yom Kippur reenacts death. We wear white, like the shrouds we will one day be buried in. We do not eat, wash, procreate; we are as corpses. We recite the unetaneh tokef, filled with reminders, “who shall live and who shall die.”

On this day we learn to love. Remarkably, Yom Kippur is a holiday filled with images of love. God will care for us, gather us up, listen to us, love us. We stand together, we weep with the force of reconciliation. We pound our hearts, as though we were once again trying to get them to beat. We are resuscitated to love.

Yom Kippur teaches eternity and fidelity. The lesson of death is clear. We live as if we have forever. Day by day, time dribbles through our fingers. Yom Kippur seeks to make our own death real to us, so that we will, in the words of the tradition “use each moment wisely.” If we can believe — not intellectually but in our guts, and in our souls — that we will die, perhaps we have a chance to really live.

But Yom Kippur is also about distance, and love. We proclaim God’s unity, we understand oneness to be the greatest ideal of our tradition, and yet we live fragmented lives. We pull away from those whom we love; we create divisions in our own communities, and in our own souls.

On Yom Kippur all of Israel is to stand as one before God. As the Hasidic master the Sefat Emeth teaches, after smashing the first set of tablets brought down from Sinai, Moses returned with the second set of tablets, the whole set, to teach Israel that brokenness should be the prelude to wholeness. Repentance is our chance to turn darkness to light, sadness to joy, brokenness to wholeness.

Can we live and can we love? Yom Kippur asks those questions because these are the questions that measure each soul. God’s love is our hope; to feel it is our task. The Hebrew word “teshuva,” repentance, means both return and answer. To return to what was intended — a world of oneness — is our hope. The answer is to recognize that each human being, each erring, flawed, yet hopeful human being — is a child of God. May this be a year of health, of sweetness and of peace.

Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David Wolpe is the author of seven books including “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” and his latest, “Why Faith Matters.” Follow him on Facebook

More on: ,


  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

Read More Articles

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.