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Yom Kippur

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Dedicated in memory of Naftoli ben Binyamin Shmuel

As I sit writing this, it seems that the entire U.S. is gripped by the question of one man's guilt or innocence (I assume that most international readers are only more casually aware of "OJ fever"). For some reason, we seem far more worried about OJ Simpson than... ourselves. Each of us should feel, right now, like OJ - knowing that there is judgement, knowing that we have been judged, and not knowing the verdict.

And shouldn't we be worried? We have no Dream Team of lawyers - and nothing can sway the Judge and Jury from full knowledge of the facts. And what are those facts...

When Rabbi Zushya was dying, his students and friends discovered that he was very worried about his Day of Judgement. They attempted to comfort him, telling him that he did great things during his lifetime - and why was he worried about being as great as Moses? "No," he replied, "I'm not worried about trying to be like Moses. No one will ask me why I wasn't Moses. They will ask me why I wasn't Zushya!"

All we are asked to do is to meet our potential! The Jewish philosophers speak of life as a series of little (and big) tests - and we are never given a test that we cannot pass. Inevitably, we reach this point, look back over the year... and we've not performed. How many times have we failed? The lesson of Yom Kippur is that there really is no such thing as a "good Jew." We can only try.

Why, then, are we not worried? First and foremost, because we do not realize what's really happening. But beyond that, we also know that G-d is slow to anger, and very forgiving - especially on Yom Kippur. The power of Yom Kippur is so great that Rebbe Yehudah HaNasi, author of the Mishna, even suggested that this day atones for all but the severest of sins... even if the person does not repent! [See Talmud Shavuous 13a]

So we go to synagogue, knowing that we are judged, but also knowing that if we do commit ourselves to changing, to growing, to doing better - then Yom Kippur will not be a day of condemnation, but one of cleansing and renewal, sending us back out into the world refreshed, strengthened, and ready to try just a bit harder in the year ahead.

Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author is the Director of Project Genesis.



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