I’m going to attempt to catch up on the missing blog posts from the last few days, we’ll see what happens. I think we left off just before Yom Kippur, so here we go.
Last Friday morning I got on a bus from Jerusalem to Tzfat with Menucha, Talia, Chana, and Amy. It was a 3.5 hour bus ride, which in Israel is a very long time since the entire country is the size of Rhode Island. It took so long because Tzfat (or Zefat or Safed) is almost as far north as you can go before hitting Lebanon or Syria.
The ride wasn’t bad though because the scenery was great. Israel is one of those places where you are a few hours from everything… Beaches, mountains, deserts, living history, modern skyscrapers, snorkeling, surfing, camel riding, whitewater kayaking, you name it. Northern Israel in particular looks like central California. Green mountains, vineyards, flourishing farmlands, large bodies of water, it’s just gorgeous.
We got into Tzfat at about 1:30pm and found our way to Ascent, a hostel and retreat center in Tzfat. Ascent is a great place to go for a cheap night of sleep, meals, holiday programming, and great classes with local Chabad shluchim (emissaries). For Yom Kippur they were completely full, with about a hundred of us staying and participating in the holiday programming. We had called and made reservations for 4 people…. and there were 5 of us. And since I was the last one to join on the bandwagon, I was left without a place to sleep. So when we got there we asked if there were any beds that had opened up. No. Any cots or extra mattresses? No. Any extra pillows and blankets so I could sleep on the floor? NO. Great…
The girls checked in and we went up to the room anyways. Lo and behold, an extra pullout bed that no one was using 🙂 How convenient! I decided I would just crash there with the hostel sleep sack I brought from my Eurotrip this summer and then pay them the 150 shekels after the holiday was over. It worked out great!
The view from Ascent was absolutely gorgeous, the people staying there were incredible, the services were meaningful and the food was pretty tasty. The city of Tzfat itself is a very unique place, full of spiritual hippy-ish Jews, small alleyway roads, tons of history, and the most stairs you’ve ever seen in a city.
Yom Kippur itself was the most incredible experience… I went into Yom Kippur this year with such a completely different mindset than I ever have before, and it made all the difference. It largely had to do with the classes here at Mayanot. During the Ten Days of Teshuvah (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur), we really focused on the fact that teshuvah is usually translated incorrectly to “repentance” when it should actually mean “return.” While I already new this, our teachers really helped put it into perspective. Rosh Hashanah was judgment day, but more importantly, the entire point (which is often missed) is that Rosh Hashanah is a day of remembrance. What were we remembering? The G-d is our King, that He created the earth, that He rules over it, and that He is, always has been, and always will be our source of life. After the coronation of G-d as King, we have these intermediary days where we focus on returning to our King and to our true selves on a soul level. All year long we put our souls, which are pure and innocent and only G-dly, through the dregs of this physical world. And while our souls can never be blemished or damaged in any way, we do manage to cover them in a layer of the mud we drag them through. The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was our chance to clean off that layer of dirt and let our true souls shine through.
Then Yom Kippur comes around. We’ve already been judged, we’ve already returned to the King, what is left? Atonement. But true atonement isn’t just “oh, I’m so sorry!” True atonement means that not only do you regret and repent for what you did, but if you were put in the same situation, you wouldn’t do it again. So if you ate a cheeseburger because it smelled so delicious and right afterward you felt awful about it, that’s teshuvah. But true repentance means that when you walk by that burger joint next week, you’ll make the choice not to order another one. If you did true teshuvah during the days leading up to Yom Kippur, than the holiday takes on a whole new meaning. Atonement is guaranteed when you do true teshuvah, it’s a rule that G-d wrote for Himself. So when we verbally confess our sins 10 times, we are letting G-d know that we realize we committed them, and we’ve done teshuvah for them, and we are ready for His forgiveness. Not only that, but we are confident He will forgive us… and when you think about that, it turns Yom Kippur into a joyous holiday. Yom Kippur… joyous?!
Not convinced? Here’s another interesting point. The same laws that apply for not working on Shabbos also apply for Yom Kippur. One of the prohibited activities for both of these occasions is writing. But wait, don’t we say that during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d writes what is decreed for us in the Book of Life? Is G-d breaking His own laws? Judaism teaches us that this is not at all allowed, whatever rules we have in place from G-d, He also has to follow, so what is going on here? There is one circumstance under which you are allowed to break any prohibition on Shabbos or Yom Tov… B’Koach Nefesh, to save a life. The only way that G-d could be writing on Yom Kippur would be if this is the case, if He is saving a life. Our lives. In actuality, He cannot write anything negative into the Book of Life on Yom Kippur, He has prohibited Himself from doing so! Just one more reason to be joyous on this solemn day.
Lastly, the day of Yom Kippur is a day when we are reuniting ourselves with G-d. With His forgiveness we are drawn closer to Him and His Torah and Mitzvot. As in any relationship, when you do something wrong, your partner judges you for it, and if you sincerely apologize for it and make sure that you will never do it again, your partner forgives you for it. So it is between us and G-d. This forgiveness actually makes our relationship with G-d stronger!
And so Yom Kippur ended with “Napoleon’s March,” a song of joy and dancing and happiness. The shofar sounded, the Gates of Heaven closed, and we were all sealed for another year of health, happiness, and blessings in the Book of Life. Shana Tova UMesuka, and may we all enjoy the amazing year G-d has in store for us 🙂