Yom Kippur
Shacharis: Leviticus 16:1- 34 - Maftir: Numbers 29:7-11 - Mincha: Leviticus 18:1-30

Is Yom Kippur Really Necessary? ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the Holy Days is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Jack and Mrs. Bella Noahson, may they rest in peace.

It is not my intention to actually debate if Yom Kippur is necessary. What is extremely important is why Yom Kippur is necessary. Why is it necessary to afflict our bodies on Yom Kippur? More Jews pray on Yom Kippur than any other day. Why?

Dear reader, the answer should be accountability. Within Judaism there is a system of accountability. For some it is tradition and for others it is accountability. Make no mistake, there is a great difference between tradition and accountability. When an individual voluntarily comes to stand before the Eternal Judge knowing his / her failings AND knowing that the Eternal Judge also knows every failing, that requires motivation. That is accountability stirred by motivation. When an individual goes to Shul because he / she has done this all their life and because their parents and grandparents do it AND expect it, that is tradition. When an individual attends Shul because of peer pressure or because of business they are motivated but not with the idea of accountability.

The idea of accountability is for every Jew to review their life much like a football coach reviews game film of his team. We review our life with the idea of CHANGE! Our goal is to approach the Eternal Judge with a list of our failings and our successes. Since the Eternal Judge already knows our failings and our successes this exercise is entirely for us. If we are really interested in true accountability then we must examine our records. We must review the film of our life. Then we must make a list.

Now it is nice that we call our friends and relatives requesting that they forgive us for our errors of the past year... years... What about our enemies? Do we call them?

This concept of every Jew being accountable to G-d who knows every detail of everything about each of us is awesome. Since this is the situation, one may ponder Why? Why isn’t the world a better place? Why isn’t my country, state, town or community a better place? If every Jew is properly motivated by the Torah’s concept of accountability then why aren’t things better?

Some philosophical Jews argue, ‘If nothing actually changes, is Yom Kippur really necessary? Why go through the motions of fasting and prayer if the results are still the same?’

Then there are the outlaws... the so to speak renegade Jews... the in your face ‘I don’t give a damn about Yom Kippur or any Jewish Holy day’ Jews, G-d forbid! For whatever reason, they have in anger, hurt or bitterness turned away from Torah observance.

Then there are the driftwood Jews. They are content to drift wherever the current takes them. They are not proactive. They do not take charge of their lives. They just flow with the current. They are not especially attracted to Torah observance or to evil. They are not in touch with the concept of Torah accountability. They are assimilated.

Then, dear reader, there are the Jews with hearts of stone! These Jews attend shul. They appear to be observant but under closer examination are more concerned with appearances than Torah observance.

We could go on and on defining how we are. We could continue to look at our faults. In fact let’s do just that, let’s continue examining our faults. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Isn’t this part of what accountability is about?

Consider this, why not hand out a dozen Jewish Behavior Sheets to family members, neighbors in the community, business associates...? Why not ask people around us what kind of a Jew we are? Now, dear reader, is that really necessary...? No! Most of us know what kind of Jew we are. Our problem is facing it!! Our problem is being willing to change!!

Holy reader, every Jew is accountable to the Eternal Judge between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are accountable whether we attend shul or not. We are accountable whether we pray or not. We are accountable whether we run or face our faults. We are accountable whether we are happy or angry. We are accountable whether we are religious or assimilated! Every Jew is accountable and that is very good!! Yom Kippur reminds all of us that we need ATONEMENT whether we like it or not. That is good! Yom Kippur reminds us that we do need to improve. That is good! Yom Kippur draws our attention to our faults. That is good! Yom Kippur directs us to repent. That is good! The point is that Yom Kippur is like an important landmark to the Jew, directing us to a better, more observant lifestyle. So Yom Kippur is really necessary even if we fail to heed its message.

There are thousands of Jews from all corners of the world who will read this Yom Kippur message. Many of us feel bankrupt because of the tragedy in New York, Washington, D. C. and Pennsylvania. Many of us grapple with the enormous pain from losing a dear loved one, from the loss of employment or from great financial loss. Then there are those who are experiencing all of these and more. The world is just beginning to feel the ripples caused from this gargantuan act of evil. Then a few days later we enter Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur stunned, bewildered, amazed, horrified, dumbfounded and in shock. We pray but we are numb. It is difficult to focus. It is more difficult not to worry about the fears that grip our hearts. We are concerned!! We need to be concerned!! We are so quickly drawn to the pain and suffering in the world even though is has been here for thousands of years. Our focus won’t let go.

This Yom Kippur we take comfort in the day of accountability. G-d requires accountability! G-d also gives comfort! G-d gives comfort with atonement! Atonement is the opposite of damage. Atonement is repair. Atonement is the opposite of loss. Atonement is reconciliation of loss! Atonement is making amends. Many of us will voluntarily atone! Our enemies... the perpetrators of evil, they will be required by G-d to atone. So in this fact we can receive comfort!

Wishing you the best!

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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