Sanctity and Solace

Maybe it’s just me.

One thing that irks me to no end is going to religious services and instead of being welcomed into a calm air of heartfelt love and prayer, being immersed in an ocean of chatter and discourse. True: Community is integral to any religious congregation, but isn’t the point to find religious fulfillment, not gossip and how-are-you’s?

When our rabbi gently whispers into the microphone, “Shh…,” people listen, take their seats, and soon thereafter such an atmosphere of selfless love is fostered and culminates in the utterance of what I’m most thankful for tonight.

13. Prayer

Tonight simultaneously begins two of the most important days in Judaism: Shabbat, our sabbath, begins Friday evening and commemorates the end of creation; since God rested, we rest. Tonight also begins Yom Kippur, the holiest of all Jewish holidays, our Day of Atonement. Tonight and tomorrow we fast and pray to God to forgive us for our sins and grant us atonement for all we’ve done, to seal us in the book of life for another year. So we pray.

Perhaps it’s ironic, on this double holiday, I’m doing a double disgrace first in using a computer and second in writing this, but such lies outside those observances I’m able to keep: Someday I will get there, where I do no such things on these days, but for now, doing so helps me to relate to the sanctity of the dayfind better meaning in the observances my circumstances allow me to do.

It’s solemn and poignant, attending High Holiday services. Yet they’re the ones I most enjoy. In my rabbi’s sermon tonight, about pride and how it harms us inside and out, he mentioned Yom Kippur is not a day to be enjoyed; it is a day to look at our iniquities, our faults, to pray for forgiveness for our shortcomings, and to remember we are only human, only passing threads in the tapestry of time and space. He said simply, if anyone should say they enjoyed his sermon tonight, he had failed to do what he intended to do: To speak of sin, to make us think of sin, of those transgressions we’ve made, and how we can move past them to becoming better people.

I find in this turmoil a deeper grace. I share a special bond with this holiday, one perhaps I’ll speak more of tomorrow instead of doing my usual reading of a verse from the Pirkei Avot, but even before this, I’ve always found Yom Kippur services the most moving of them all. It’s a day to remember our humanity, our feebleness, our smallness in the world. Yet it’s a testament of our faith in God, a pillar of hope, in our own strength to be able to change, in God’s compassion to cleanse us of past mistakes so we may start anew, in the coming together of a community as one.

Yes. The chattering at first is akin to drowning, but once we all come together in prayer, our voices rising together in waves of glory, every voice in harmony, each voice offset only slightly so that no one voice is heard above the others and they all come together in awe-inspiring symphony, all the while sanctity pours fourth from the Ark, the light of the Toratot spreading over each of us, into each of us….

There is no greater glory. No greater solace.

This hope, this renewal–it’s a blessing, a gift, and in it I draw strength and courage and love, deep love of a sort I can’t describe in few words. Prayer, too, is a privilege, and not one we can all take part of–those ill, or unable to travel, or those caught up in war or other unavoidable engagements, they’re unable to experience such a gift as this. I was unable to attend services on Rosh HaShanah; such a fact makes my attendance on Yom Kippur all the more intense and meaningful, all the more important to my soul. For that, I am most thankful.

I could go on. I could on much further, much deeper, in more directions and angles than I already have. But at some point–at what point?–do words become mere words, does passion become impassioned? Take trust in my words, that I could describe the depth of prayer and the moving qualities thereof to no end, but take in stride that too much is just that, too much, and there are always others we can tend to, whether our responsibilities or our friends or our families or ourselves. On such a day as this, we should remember our humanity, our briefness in the world. While enjoying the nurturing of our souls that prayer provides, pledge to give others what we would want to receive.

G’mar chatimah tovah. May you be sealed in the book of life for a sweet and happy new year.

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