The Yom Kippur Cake

by | Sep 25, 2017 | Torah Thought

Thank G-d, I am married to an amazing woman and have five incredible boys. Every year at anniversaries and birthdays we celebrate each other, give gifts, eat cake, or in my wife’s case, a lot of chocolate, and the next day, our lives continue. We celebrate, sing, take pictures, and then we don’t really consider the significance of these days again until they creep up on us the following year.

To a certain extent, this is how we tend to treat all significant days that repeat on the calendar: with celebrations or commemorations— and then, we move on. Do these days impact our lives? Do we truly celebrate the person while we are trying to scoop our ice cream and cake on the same spoon? Do we actually think deeply about how this individual impacts our lives?

When considering Jewish holidays, we must similarly consider these days’ significance. Do we let the High Holidays creep up on us, just to “eat our apples and honey” and move on? Do we come to Yom Kippur with a sense of awe and trepidation, or do we go through the motions only to participate in a long service after which we can consume an insane amount of lox and feel good about it?

I would like to suggest that for most of us Yom Kippur is hard. It is hard not because we do not eat for an entire day, although that is not easy. It is hard because we do not usually feel as though we are gaining something from it. When a person is at a meeting that they do not feel is productive for them, but rather is something that their company dictates they must attend, how engaged are they? When a person is forced to attend a training that they do not want to be a part of, how excited are they about that program? For many Jews, Yom Kippur is a day that we talk about, but we do not really understand. If we would see this day as a day to reflect on how we have treated others, treated ourselves, and treated G-d, then maybe it would be different. If we would give ourselves time during this holy day to really contemplate our relationships, interpersonal and spiritual, and analyze the past with the purpose of planning for the future, then maybe the day would be different. If synagogue was not about listening to someone else pray, but rather about engaging in a deep relationship with our deepest selves and G-d, using the ancient liturgy as a tool for personal growth and change, then maybe Yom Kippur would be different.

Yom Kippur is a powerful tool in the Jewish arsenal of spiritual weapons. If we want to defeat our deepest internal enemies, we need every weapon we can muster. We need every tool, every part of our being, and every ounce of energy to become the best Jews and the best people that we have the potential to become. Yom Kippur is not about what happens in synagogue. It is what happens in our hearts and minds. May this Yom Kippur be a day of change for all of us individually—and in that merit, may we be unified as a community and as a people.

Rabbi Gershon Litt, Norfolk Kollel