yOM kippur – The Jewish Day of Reflection
Each year my family gathers from whatever corner of the world we are living in, respectively, to come together at my parents’ house and celebrate Yom Kippur. My family is very much ethnically and culturally Jewish at this point though few of us adhere to the religious aspects of Judaism. However, like many secular Jews we do observe the “High Holy Days.” Today is the day leading into Yom Kippur, “Erev Yom Kippur, “ and it is on this day, traditionally, that charity is given and forgiveness asked. Tomorrow we will observe the holiday by fasting until sundown and reflecting on our actions over the past year. Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement and repentance. I think there is something very useful in this tradition but I feel it necessary to flesh out the meeting ground between the spiritual mentality of mindfulness and the religious tradition of repentance.
Does it really serve us to repent? Although no human is perfect and we have all, at one point or another, inflicted pain on others (whether consciously or not) “repentance” feels weighted with guilt and thus in many ways not productive for any of our processes.
So, clearly, I feel at least a little at odds with this religious tradition. But, I mean to say that I observe the day for a reason. Partially for me it is an opportunity to be with my family, all of whom I hold very dear and close to my heart. Moreover, I appreciate an entire day dedicated to reflection. And that’s where my practice and my religious background can meet one another. Rather than thinking of Yom Kippur as a day of repentance I think of it as a day of reflection. We gather the evening before to indulge in a large feast (family style of course). We celebrate each other. And then we spend the following 24 hours fasting in introspection. The practice of fasting brings mental clarity. The practice of meditating deeply on how we have impacted the world around us allows us to see how we can act going forward.
At the risk of sounding sacrilegious I say now that for me Yom Kippur is not the day of repentance but rather the day of reflection.