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Rabbis' Blog

Yom Kippur Jew

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Dear Rabbi Levi,

I am a "once-a-year Jew." I was raised with no Jewish education and my only exposure to Judaism was my synagogue attendance on Yom Kippur. Each year I make a point to be in a synagogue on that day, though the service is foreign to me and frankly I'd rather be somewhere else. Is there any value to my annual appearance?

Once-a-year Jew

Dear Jew,

There is no such thing as a once-a-year Jew. A Jew is a full-fledged Jew 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. No matter the lifestyle one chooses to live, nothing can compromise how innately Jewish a Jew is. The greatest proof to this assertion is the fact that you make the effort to attend a service on Yom Kippur each year. Despite your discomfort, you sense that this is the place to be - just because you are a Jew.

The overarching theme of Yom Kippur is the essential connection a Jew has with G-d. Notwithstanding the many misdeeds one may have committed throughout the year and despite that one’s relationship may seem strained, it is on this day that the unbreakable bond is revealed and the relationship is refreshed.

Once during the Neilah prayer, the Baal Shem Tov (Founder of the Chassidic movement) cried and prayed with more fervor than usual. His disciples understood that the prosecuting angel in heaven had put forth a harsh decree that the Baal Shem Tov was working hard to annul, and they also intensified their prayers and crying.

In the synagogue there was a young shepherd boy who was completely uneducated. Throughout the day he sat and stared at the prayer book without uttering a word.

As a shepherd, the boy knew the sounds made by all the different farm animals, and he especially admired the rooster’s crowing. When he heard the weeping and the outcries, his heart was also shattered and he cried out loudly, “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!”

The unexpected outburst caused a commotion among the worshippers, but surprisingly, immediately after this commotion the face of the Baal Shem Tov began to shine, and with a special melody he proceeded to complete the Yom Kippur service.

After Yom Kippur, the Baal Shem Tov related to his disciples that there had been an accusation leveled in heaven against a particular community, with the prosecution seeking their destruction. All of his entreaties on their behalf had borne no fruit.

However, suddenly the sound of the call of the shepherd boy was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, nullifying the harsh decree.

Your annual appearance for Yom Kippur services is extremely valuable. Even if you are not trained to follow along with the service, your presence causes great pleasure to G-d.

I encourage you to tap into your limitless reservoir of Jewishness by studying and discovering your beautiful heritage and by next year you may even enjoy Yom Kippur services!

Click here for the full Yom Kippur schedule at Chabad. 

A Year Of Selflessness

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We are familiar with the routine. Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal. We make our new-year commitments to do an extra mitzvah, set aside more time for Torah study and to give more charity. But as humans we need change. A break in routine is healthy. What will make the year 5775 unique?

In ancient Israel the economy was primarily agricultural. Each tribe was apportioned an area of land and every family inherited property. The primary occupation was farming.

Prior to the grand entry into the Promised Land, G-d set down the tone of this farming community in the following way: (Leviticus 25)

When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the L-rd. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, but in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the L-rd; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard.

Imagine this: A civilization with a roaring economy, employment is at 100% primarily through the farming industry and it all grinds to a halt every seventh year. For a full year! What does everyone eat?

The Torah addresses this concern and G-d ensures the Jewish people that if they will adhere to the laws of Shmitah (the seventh year in the cycle), the crop of the sixth year will yield a triple surplus of food. For the entire year the people of Israel filled the study halls and immersed themselves in Torah study. It felt like a 354 day Shabbat.

The commandment of Shmitah applies today as well. In fact, this year is a Shmitah year. Even for us non-farmers this mitzvah has a powerful relevance to our lives.

There is the weekday reality and the Shabbat reality. Throughout the week we are concerned with ourselves, occupied with providing for our families and consumed by the fast paced reality of the big world. On Shabbat we put ourselves aside and devote 24 hours to focus on our higher purpose.

Every seventh year G-d gifts us with a year-long opportunity to experience the selflessness and serenity of Shabbat all the time. This year, make an effort to focus a bit more on your higher purpose. Commit yourself to a mitzvah that you may find difficult and increase in charity though it may be tough. This Rosh Hashanah we are given the power of selflessness. Let’s cash it in and think of another more than we think of ourselves.

May G-d Al-mighty bless our community and the entire world with a ktivah v’chatimah tovah leshanah tovah umetukah – a good and sweet new year!

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