It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Opening Up

Took a too-long blog break -- this has part of my excuse. Just jump there, and jump back -- it'll only take a second. As for the rest, we have a lot of catching up to do.

Meanwhile, here we are again, 24-hour countdown to Yom Kippur, the Gates of Heaven are nearly open, and with all its good timing, the Night-Blooming Cereus is, as well.

Once a year, about nine p.m., it shares its beauty with its nocturnal compatriots, and just three hours previous to this writing, here it is:

(Both photos copyright the family photographer, i.e. That Guy I Married)

Our neighbor L-C was nice enough to give us a call so we wouldn't miss the annual blooming on her front porch.... and by now it has already closed.

(I was impressed at the timing, then did a quick search noted -- with irony -- that a primary association with this flower has something to do with Krishna worship in India. The timing's still pretty cool though, don't you think?)

Just a simple thought, coming into our Day of Repentence. Last week during class break, a fellow student approached me with a question:
Why should I bother fasting again this year? I know that right after Yom Kippur I'm just going back to all the things I usually do -- not keeping Shabbat, and all that. So what good will it do for me to fast?
She is relatively young, in her mid-twenties, and grew up in a religious household, in the religious school system here in Israel. She no longer identifies as a religious person but remains close with her family.

As in keeping with the tradition, I answered her question with a question: What's the connection between not keeping Shabbat next week, and keeping Yom Kippur this week?

I was convinced, without knowing why, that the two are not inherently linked, at least not on every level, but at the time I couldn't explain it in a way that satisfied either of us.

Today, leafing through Al ha-Teshuva, a text based on lectures given by Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveichik, I found a more exact answer. Rav Soloveichik talks a lot about the individual versus the Klal, the collective. While each individual certainly bears responsibility for his or her own actions and atonement process, there is a parallel process that is the jurisdiction the collective, which, according to the Rav, is an entity with an identity in and of itself.

It is up to the individual to consider him or herself a part of Klal Yisrael, and one way to achieve kapara (atonement) on Yom Kippur is to be a part of this collective -- what he calls the "אני קבוצי," "communal I." In his words (my translation):
We identify with the congregation of Israel, are molded and merged into it, we are made one with it -- and through this, we become worthy of the atonement that it [the congregation] is worthy of (p. 77).
He asks whether the atonement of Yom Kippur is that of the individual, or of the collective, and goes on to explain that the answer is, in fact both. The collective gives us a power of atonement, distinct from our individual efforts, and so (as I later wrote my classmate), as long as you consider yourself a part of the community, on whatever level, your fasting along with everyone is still worth something.

גמר חתימה טובה / Gmar Hatima Tova.

May we all be inscribed for life, blessings, health, and new openings leading to new beginnings.


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