Through the kind invitation of my friend, Rabbi Norman Cohen, last night I attended the evening Yom Kippur service at Bet Shalom Temple. I found the experience to be deeply moving.
Yom Kippur, as many people know is the Jewish day of atonement. “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God” (Leviticus 16:30). As the quote suggests, the atonement is for sins against God, not sins against another person. Atonement for sins against another person, requires that one seek reconciliation with that person, and, if possible, the righting the wrongs committed against that person. (That atonement should be done before Yom Kippur).
Last night’s service included beautiful prayers of blessing and prayers for forgiveness, spoken prayers and sung prayers, prayers in Hebrew and prayers in English. There were many parts of the service that touched me deeply. One that stood out was a sung prayer for healing. As the cantor repeated, “Heal us, God,” I found my eyes filling with tears.
At one level, the prayer asks forgiveness for our own sins. But as the words were sung, in my mind I saw pictures of ISIS executions of Christians, the war between Israel and Palestine, the Chinese government’s reaction to the protests in Hong Kong, crimes of violence in the United States and so many more. A kaleidoscope of pictures one after the other of the sins of the world – of the sins of God’s people.
Heal us, God, I prayed in the depth of my soul, as I listened to the singing of the cantor. Heal us, God: Not just those of us sitting here. Not just those of us who pray for your healing. Not just those we feel kindly toward. But heal us, heal all of us who are in need of your grace (that is, every one of us alive today), heal those who recognize that need and those who don’t.
Heal us, O God.
Note: My friend Larry Mitchell writes beautifully about Yom Kippur and Kol Nidrie (the opening prayer for the Yom Kippur evening service) here and here.