A Meditative Yom Kippur

This was the first year that I made it through the marathon of prayer services of Yom Kippur.  Yet another year when I opened the Machzor and thought to myself “You mean I am going to be reading/saying/singing all 800 pages of this?”  Well, yes.  Yes I did.  I talked to Gd from 5pm on Sunday night until 8pm, and then the following morning from 7:30am until 6:20pm, with an hour-and-a-half break, and without food or water.

Of course, the whole point of this long and belabored prayer service to get a lot more than a feeling of overcoming the physical hurdles of giving of time and energy.  It is more than just slogging through word after work and physically bearing the fast.  There is a method to the masochism.

The Viduii, confessional, a key aspect to the day’s prayer, is an alphabetical list of sins that the congregation recites 10 times throughout the course of the holiday.  By the end I had to wonder, “Isn’t Gd getting a little bored?”

I’ve heard it said that the seasons, holidays and years are not cyclical but rather a spiral that keeps going up.  Just as each week Shabbat comes around and we bring to it something new, so too with each holiday and of course each Yom Kippur.  So, too, it could be with each prayer.  Each time we approach Gd for divine assistance, we come with different experiences and different expectations.

If a person prepares for Yom Kippur appropriately and uses the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the entire month of Elul as a period of reflection and genuine teshuvah, then he/she can be much more prepared to think about how was it that he/she was guilty of various categories of sin.

Each time the Viduii comes around, the focus can be on a different aspect of the sin or category of sin.  Take for example דיברנו דופי.  How many different ways did I misuse the power of speech over the past year?  The repentance is for both once-in-a-while violations as well as total negligence or larger behavior patterns.  How can I create better habits in the coming year as to not repeat the sin or at least decrease the likelihood that it will occur?

In my (limited) study of prayer, I’ve seen it referred to among other things, as a meditative experience.   The essential part of each prayer service, the Amidah, has to include thanksgiving, praise and request.  Each item of the service can also be a point of reflection and self-evaluation.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan ז’ל has written a great deal on meditation in Jewish prayer.  In his book  Meditation and the Bible, Rabbi Kaplan explains that the actions of the forefathers Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov from which we establish the 3 daily prayers of shacharit, mincha and ma’ariv were actually meditative experiences.

Repeating the same thing over and over, with intense focus, can in fact be meditative.   Yom Kippur closes with the phrases:

שמע ישראל, ה אלקינו, ה אחד

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

ה הוא האלקים

Each is said once, three times and seven times respectively, after the prayer leader.  This is the critical last moment.  The sun is setting.  We’ve been standing for at least an hour in the same place.  We’ve been fasting for over 25 hours.  This is the last time to cry out to Gd.

This is the last mile (or kilometer) in the marathon.  It’s the last repetition in the set.  The fat lady is about to sing.  You give it all you’ve got, a cleansing shout, and hope to enter into the New Year with a clean slate.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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