Kabbalistic holidays are cosmic windows of time when specific energies become available to us. One such window in time is Yom Kippur, which we welcome this Sunday, the 10th of Libra.
The opportunity for us on Yom Kippur is to experience expansive degrees of joy, fulfillment, and peace. To feel an awestruck sense of goodness and appreciation. It seems counterintuitive given the way we observe Yom Kippur. We don’t eat or drink, we refrain from bathing, and abstain from many other daily comforts creating an atmosphere of more discomfort than joy. And this is precisely where the transformative work of Yom Kippur begins. By disconnecting from the physical world, our connection to the spiritual world is deepened and unhindered.
The Arvei Nachal says that on Yom Kippur, we sit next to the Creator as he looks through each day from the past year and makes an account.
Let’s look at the first part of that sentence: “Sit next to the Creator.” Can you imagine what you would say? What would be worthy of asking? I have thought about this question, and I would hope that sitting next to the Creator, I would say the following:
“I know there is a lot I want to accomplish in this world that I haven’t. I know that I need to transform my desire to Receive for the Self Alone to one of sharing. Give me strength and assistance to completely transform so I can accomplish what I came to this world to do.”
The second half of that sentence is a bit more ominous: “as he looks through each day from the past year and makes an account.”
Most of us would rather not have the Creator see some of our worst behavior from the past year. In the face of the moments we’re least proud of, we might think, surely the Creator will also take into account our positive moments and good actions, right? Not exactly how it works, I’m afraid. The hours you spent sharing and connecting to the Light are not what matters. The Creator counts only the seconds that we are able to elevate ourselves up from chaos in our most difficult times. Those are the most important moments of any day.
This is, of course, not meant to frighten anyone and it isn’t about judging ourselves harshly. Quite the opposite, in fact. The great Kabbalist, the Ba’al Shem Tov, said something very simple on this topic. Any thought that you have, any self-assessment that you are undertaking, there is one clear way to know whether it is coming from a good place or a bad place, from the right place or the wrong place and it’s very simple: Does it propel you into action or does it cause you to step back? Does it depress you or does it excite you? When we talk about sitting beside the Creator and looking back on our year, we want that examination to be inspiring, we want it to lead toward growth.
It reminds me of a story I love about Jim Carrey. Many years ago he was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on her show. He told her a story about the early days of his career and how many challenges he faced—he struggled with depression, homelessness, and intense financial hardships. He was barely scraping by. It would have been incredibly easy—maybe even advisable!—to give up on his dream of becoming an actor. But he didn’t. Instead of succumbing to his circumstances of lack and seeming limitation, he would consciously visualize all the things he wanted. He would connect to those feelings of joy and positivity even in the midst of circumstances that painted a very opposite picture. This empowered him to continue.
He took this practice one step further and wrote himself a check for $10 million for “acting services rendered” to be paid on Thanksgiving three years from the date he wrote it. He carried it around in his wallet every day, and it became tattered and worn, but it gave him the constant reminder. A reminder that success was on its way. Three years went by, and as Thanksgiving rolled around he learned that he would be making $10 million on a film called Dumb and Dumber. And as we all know, he’s been bringing laughter to the lives of millions ever since.
We have the ability to elevate ourselves in every moment, through any challenge. When we do this we are bringing Light out of darkness and, if in one year’s time, a person has elevated 24 hours of Light then that person is considered righteous. The work of elevating isn’t easy, nor should it be. It is designed to help us grow and transform. The promise of this work is true fulfillment. When we are truly fulfilled we can then share our abundance and Light with others in deeply profound ways.
Our goal is to bring Light in abundance not only for ourselves but our family, and the world and Yom Kippur gives us a powerful chance to do exactly that. The Arvei Nachal adds that “worthy are we if, every day, we have a few minutes that are true work.” This true work looks like fighting against obstacles that would stop us from fulfilling our purpose. Pushing ourselves when we don’t want to, transforming judgment to mercy, and not being reactive to difficult circumstances. These are the keys to drawing down the blessings available to us on Yom Kippur—to bring Light in abundance even in the midst of discomfort.
As you observe Yom Kippur, give yourself permission to feel joy, fulfillment, and peace to the highest degree, no matter where you are. Now matter your circumstances or discomforts. Know with certainty that as you draw down the Light into your life, you do so for everyone around you.
Gamar Chatima Tova
Blessings for your year