Three hours or so to go before the start of Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. The Day of Atonement. The day on which the Almighty seals the Books of Life and Death and the fate of all living creatures is decided for the coming year.
It’s nearly 2 p.m. So short a time to prepare for the Fast. And yet – what is there to prepare? We have had the nine days since Rosh Hashana to prepare. We have had the whole month of Ellul to prepare. And yet I feel unprepared. I always feel unprepared on the eve of Yom Kippur. I always have this kind of indefinable feeling that the whole world is waiting – for something, I don’t know what. Something that cannot be put into words. As if the whole day is simply a day of anticipation for the day to come.
As always, I ask myself – will I make it through the 25 hour fast? As always, since 1973, I – and the entire Nation of Israel – wonder, how will the day end? For on this day, the Almighty will judge, not only individuals, but the nations also. Thirty nine years ago, the Arab world chose this holiest of days to attack Israel, continuing a tradition of our enemies, to attack us when we are at prayer and unprepared. Now, the so-called “Arab Spring” has put in power an Islamist government in Egypt. In neighbouring Syria, the Iran-backed Assad regime is at war with a “popular revolution” which is fueled, to a great degree, by extreme Islamist terrorist groups. And what of Iran – progressing by leaps and bounds towards nuclear power? Nuclear power which their Jew-hating president, Ahmedinajad, promises to unleash upon Israel.
So, should I pray for the demise of Ahmedinajad and the ayatollahs and of the Muslim Brotherhood, or rather, that they may see the light? In the Ne’ilah service, the closing service of Yom Kippur, we refer, several times, each time in a slightly different format, to the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).
The very last words of the Ne’ilah service are a prayer for peace: May he who maketh peace in his high places, make peace for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen.”
And, implicit in the prayer for peace for the House of Israel, is the wish for peace for all humanity. Because the Peace we pray for is not the peace of the Pax Romana, a peace kept only because one side is strong enough to impose its will on all the others, and therefore ephemeral and doomed to die, as soon one side’s power wanes and that of another grows. True peace can only come when both – or all – parties earnestly desire peace with the other side and not a “peace” which exists only because the other side has been totally subjugated or no longer exists.
I will leave you with a studio recording of the great chazan (cantor) Yossele Rosenblatt, singing the Kol Nidrei prayer, which for generations has marked the start of the Yom Kippur services.
May you have a good, final sealing.
גמר חתימה טובה – G’mar Chatima Tova