The Mishna in “Chapters of our Fathers” 5:5 describes ten miracles that used to occur in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (a couple of feet above the Western Wall in the picture). One of those miracle was that when the pilgrims—hundreds of thousands of them—stood in the Temple courtyard, they were crammed together, like the crowd you see here, photographed Monday night, the eve of Yom Kippur.
But when the time came for every pilgrim to prostrate themselves on the ground, the dimensions of the place morphed and each individual pilgrim had ample space so that no person touched the bodies of their fellow worshippers.
The multitude in the Temple courtyard fell on the ground as the High Priest read out the full name of God, all 72 letters of It. And when he was done, they all cried out: Blessed be the Name of His Kingdom for eternity.
We do both those things on Yom Kippur, during the Mussaf prayer: prostrate ourselves on the floor of the synagogue (on a sheet of paper), and cry out the blessing which, on normal days we only whisper.
It preserves the muscle memory of the ancient ceremony.
During the year, we whisper the “Blessed be the Name of His Kingdom for eternity” line after we say the opening line of the Shma reading. Each day, twice a day, when I say that line, I’m transported in my head to the place where I had last said it out loud, prostrated on the floor.
For an entire year now, I’ve been returning in my head, twice a day, to the Stanton Street Shul on the Lower East Side, where I last kept Yom Kippur.
This year, we’ll be staying with our friends in Tzfat, and will be davening in a Chasidish place in that strange, old town. I’ll be saying good bye to the last spiritual vestige of the Diaspora inside my head.
Have a meaningful fast. If you wish, this can be the most fun day of the year.