Day of At-Onement

IT’S HARD TO DESCRIBE THE feeling I get around 1 or 2 p.m. on Yom Kippur afternoon with no food since the previous evening. It’s an intellectual, buzzy sort of consciousness: colors are brighter, outlines sharper, and an almost euphoric state of clarity sets in. At our synagogue we take a service-break from about 12:30 until 4:30 p.m. — some people go home to nap or introspect, others hang out at the sanctuary to pray or meditate or just sit in community. As for me, I go home to feed the cat, engage in (what I hope is) honest self-criticism, and study something appropriate.

“Atonement” literally means “reparation for sin.” I don’t like the word “sin;” the dominant religious paradigm has invested it with what I feel are, from a Jewish perspective, inaccurate connotations. Judaism teaches that the general sin-concept (in Hebrew, “aveirah,” or “line-crossing”) falls into one of three categories: missing the mark, rationalization, and rebellion. “Missing the mark” is pretty unavoidable, “rationalization” arises from weakness of character, but “rebellion” is the hardest to repair. Not impossible, but difficult enough to seem that way.

There’s a mystical version of the reparation idea that hyphenates “atonement” into “at-Onement.” It works like this: Aveirahs separate us from that-which-passes-for-G?d; at-Onement repairs that (apparent) breach. Focusing on our mark-missings, rationalizations and rebellions (and their mending!) via a 25-hour annual prayer/meditation/introspection session can truly help start the spiritual healing process.

By these small acts let us all move forward. Yom Kippur begins tomorrow at sundown. Have a good and meaningful fast!

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