Rabbi Lev Herrnson
We Are Like Angels
Over the course of any given year, we accumulate things that weigh us down, including the emotional residue of shameful acts, impure thoughts and desires, an expanded portfolio of base emotions and regretted reactions, and the weightiness of our unsuccessful interactions with others. Each year we soil our indiviudal and collective consciences.
The Jewish tradition teaches that, during the month of Elul, leading up to Rosh haShanah, and right through to Ne'ilah—the last service of Yom Kippur observance, we are encouraged to actively seek forgiveness from one another and from the Divine for our transgressions. To seek forgiveness is a privilege, special dispensation for our human condition.
Other processes for self-expiation are more mystical in nature. Consider tashlich, when we stuff our pockets with breadcrumbs, only to empty them into the water and, by so doing, figuratively relieve ourselves of our shortcomings. Or Kol Nidre and its incantational tone, which offers a liturigcal and sometime musical means of shedding concern and emotional baggage.
On Yom Kippur we afflict ourselves, refraining from carnal desires, luxury items and the simplest of pleasures. We abstain from food and drink on the Day of Atonement, fasting in order to focus our attention on the serious, severe nature of the day. We are more focused in our intensity on Yom Kippur, but also lighter for not having eaten and for having purged ourselves of weightier, baser desires and inclinations.
Our goal over this austere season is to lose some emotional weight. If our supplications, our corrective actions and newly-found self discipline take hold, we indeed feel lighter. And on Yom Kippur, we refrain from earthly pursuits and passions, surrendering ourselves to the celestial court. We wear white as if to repel any blemish. And when we raise ourselves up on our toes, we feel light-headed in the presense of our Creator and Judge. As the season of judgement draws to a close, we approximate angels. Alas, we are not angels. Nonetheless, our condition licenses us to improve ourselves, inching up the ladder of existence toward a better life, one filled with purity, goodness and concern for others. And we all feel lighter knowing that we’re here to make ammends and move forward.
On the eve of 5775, I wish each of you health and happiness—and freedom from burden. L’shanah tovah. G’mar khatimah tovah. Happy New Year, and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.