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It is Sunday, the day after Yom Kippur and everyone you speak to says, “Thank G-d it’s over.” Just days earlier, the collective mood was comparable to what people feel when faced with a root canal – resignation over something unavoidable that you can’t wait to get over with. Very few would view Yom Kippur as a Yom Tov – a day of simcha.
But it is. Even though it can be challenging physically, Yom Kippur is a priceless gift from Hashem, for it is the one day in the year that gives genuine hope to the desperate and the despairing.
I myself didn’t understand the brachah of the Day of Atonement until I was well into my 20s. Like everyone else, I “endured” the day as a necessary component of being Jewish – something to get through while I daydreamed of the hot coffee and cookies I would drink and eat (guilt-free because I had fasted all day).
But one day years ago, just a few days after Rosh Hashanah, my world came crashing down due to circumstances beyond my control, related to an “out-of-left-field” ruling by a secular court. Being young and unaware of how the legal system works, I had no idea if I would ever find relief from the nightmare that had enveloped me. I did not know when the matter would be resolved – if ever, and the ensuing minutes, hours and days were filled with heart-pounding anxiety, breath-robbing dread, and worse of all – bleak hopelessness.
And then it was Erev Yom Kippur, and I went to shul and I started to daven, and for the first time in a week, I felt a warm calmness slowly ripple throughout my being, melting the cold, iciness that had gripped my heart. A seed of hope has been planted and by the next morning, as I continued to daven, it slowly sprouted and filled my soul with soothing optimism.
For I had begun to realize that while the secular court was unapproachable – (you just can’t walk in and ask to see the judge) there was a way to right the wrong that had destroyed my tranquility and regain my peace of mind that had been so unexpectedly shattered.
For on Yom Kippur, we are all given the gift of appeal and what had devastated my world could be overturned. For me, and others involved in legal proceedings, it didn’t matter what an earthly court had decreed. In my mother’s case, and that of all other cholim, it was irrelevant what the medical doctor had stated; for the infertile couples, the destitute, the stricken, and the lost – the opinions,” proclamations and declarations of the “experts” had no value. All “facts,” “realities” and “truths” are determined by the Creator of the Universe and the quantity – and quality – of our years, is set by the Heavenly Judge.
Who will live and who will die – who will have his life cut short and who will live their full lifespan. Who will have tranquil lives and whose lives will be stressful and unsettled. All is in Hashem’s hands. And in His Infinite Mercy, He has given us an opportunity to “fix” what is “broken” in our lives.
Ultimately, we may or may not get the relief we so desperately seek. Hashem in His Wisdom, that is beyond the ability of mere mortals to comprehend, does not always alleviate our tzorres – but that is notreally the point. What counts is that we are given a day that leaves us with hope.
We are given a 25-hour period to reflect on our lives, become more aware of our flaws, frailties and shortcomings – and to improve ourselves. Self-awareness is a necessary first step to self-improvement. As we become more aware of our weaknesses – in both our physical and spiritual selves, we get a heightened sense of Hashem’s omnipotence – and His power to give us relief.
We are like little children who, once they learn to walk, think there is no limit to what they can do for themselves – until they fall, and in pain, run to their Totty to “fix” their “boo-boo.” How reassuring for them to know there is a loving and powerful father to run to for help. Just the knowledge of his presence sustains them.
And Yom Kippur sustains us. It is the day that stops us in our tracks and makes us remember that we have Someone to go when we are in pain. Someone who can rescue us from our mistakes – or the mistakes of others.
In my case, the horrific situation that had caused me such anguish eventually was resolved and is gathering dust in a subterranean storage area deep in the recesses of my memory. However I have never forgotten the soothing sweetness of hope that suffused my sorry heart on that Day Of Appeal so long ago. For me, Yom Kippur will always be a Yom Tov – a day of goodness to be embraced and cherished and welcomed, all the days of my life.