Yom Kippur 5771
I saw the angel in the marble and carved
until I set him free – Michelangelo
A few days ago my good
friend sent me a picture of himself as a young boy. Pure. Innocent. Beautiful.
This friend had grown
up in a fractured home. Estranged from abusive parents he was excited to discover
a picture from his childhood.
But my friend’s anguished
words brought tears to my eyes. “What happened to that little boy?” he asked
with resignation dripping from his words.
“I look at myself today
and don’t recognize that child. Not the wonder in his eyes, not the simple
smile on his lips. Not his clear complexion. That small, innocent child is
I hung up the phone and
wept. Not for the lost child, but for something far deeper: For my friend’s
self-induced certainty that his purity is lost, when in truth it is right
there inside of him, and I, for one, am able to see it.
Was it a coincidence that
this incident happened just as we are about to enter Yom Kippur, the holiest
day of the year? Rhetorical question.
Yom Kippur was the only
time of the year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. All year
round no person ever entered this holy place. Anyone entering would not survive.
Like a blinding light, the exposed spirituality of the place could not be
contained and consumed all who entered.
Even when the High Priest
would enter on Yom Kippur, it was only for a short while and after extensive
preparations. Furthermore, he entered bound in ropes to drag him out if he
carried any blemish and would perish as he entered!
What exactly is the Holy
of Holies and why was it so inaccessible? What is the significance of entering
the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur?
The mystics explain that
Yom Kippur – which the Torah coins “achas b’sheno” (lit. once a year) – refers
to the “achas,” the oneness and unity of the innermost dimension of the soul
– yechida sheb’nefesh.
The soul as it were is
comprised of five dimensions, one curled into the next: The surface level
of the soul is Nefesh – sensory life. Layer two is Ruach – emotional
life. Next is Neshomo – intellectual life, Chaya – transcendental
and finally Yechida – oneness – the pure essence of the soul. Yechida,
oneness, is the pintele yid – the inner dot, the purest point of your
most intimate self. The inner child of innocence.
Our most tangible experiences
are on the outer layers of the soul; what our surface senses and basic consciousness
can perceive. But our truest and most meaningful experiences are on the inner
levels of the soul, the deepest of them all – on the yechida level.
However, the deepest recesses
of the soul are shrouded within its outer layers, which in turn are encased
in the hard crust of the physical body and material universe.
This is the story of our
lives. We are born pure and innocent children. Children who dream enchanted
dreams, believe that everything is possible and expect the most. Vulnerable
children – unpolluted and uncorrupted. Then life’s challenges being to seep
into our experiences. We slowly (some faster than others) learn about deceit,
disappointments and unrealized expectations. As the years roll on the outer
layers of our soul and the body’s shell harden, innocence lost and expectations
lowered. As we experience harsher realities many of our dreams and idealism
wanes, until many of us come to a point of silent resignation, distracting
ourselves with outer stimulation, anything that will relieve our existential
loneliness. Some develop sharper tools like cynicism.
As much as we crave intimacy
which resonates deep within us, the sad fact is that sensory stimulation consumes
our daily lives, obfuscating our innocent essence, to the point that our inner
life is most often left wanting if not plain starving.
So is there hope? Can
we reach our inner child?
The answer is yes, but
it is not a simple process.
Entering the souls’ holy
of holies is not a light matter. We don’t enter there at will and without
great care. Being the purest place in your heart and the most intimate dimension
of the soul, yechida (the holy of holies) is extremely sensitive. Every
subtle move, even the slightest quiver, has a dramatic impact on that most
tender of places in our psyches. Observe a newborn child’s’ ultra sensitivity
to touch and surroundings. This is why abuse that touches our intimacy, especially
as young children, has such devastating consequences. By means of analogy:
A strand of hair on your sleeve is harmless, but in your eye it is highly
irritating. Our outer organs are protected from bacteria, but exposing our
internal organs requires a highly sterilized environment. The subtler and
purer the place, the greater the care necessary to preserve its pristine character.
But one day a year we
are given the power to enter our holy of holies. And we enter with great care:
We fast and suspend, as much as possible, our immersion in the material world.
We spend the day in prayer and clothed in white – all to set the proper ambiance
to enter the holiest place in our souls.
That one day is Yom Kippur
– the day of the fifth dimension (hence, five prayers), when we celebrate
yechida: The one and only day in the year when each of us has the power
to access our innocence. On this day you can become like the High Priest and
enter your own holy of holies.
On Yom Kippur you return
to your child, to your innocence, to your purest place. But this time, the
innocence and exuberance of the child comes joined with the seasoning and
experience of an adult. [One of the most awesome sights is to witness the
fusion of adulthood and childhood. Observe an elder who still maintains the
twinkle – the spunk, enthusiasm and possibilities – of youth].
And therein lays the power
of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur tells us that
your child is never lost. Perhaps concealed. Maybe deeply concealed. Your
child may be hiding. After your child has been hurt and disappointed, after
he or she has seen how cruel people can be – your child goes into hiding.
What emerges is an adult with a metal sheet of armor, an extensive and complex
battery of defense mechanisms, protecting the vulnerable child from the pains
of the world. Sometimes the child is so well concealed that the “mature adult”
cannot even see his own child within.
But then we are given
a day like Yom Kippur, when we are able to open the doors, and peer inside.
And as we do – the child within is given the power, permission and strength
to peer out back to us.
Can you see your child?
Even the most cynical
among (and within) us has a pure side. Even the most jaded has a moment of
truth. Yom Kippur teaches us the most vital message of hope: Never give up
on your self – on your inner, pure self. No matter how challenging your life
has become, no matter how worn down you are, despite your bitter disappointments,
losses and wounds – your inner child always remains intact.
Even if you give up on
everything, never give up on that pure child that lies embedded within you.
That child – the holiest part of your heart and soul – may be your last vestige
of your greatest potential, and the last refuge of hope.
If nothing else – one
day a year hold on to what is most dear. Give your child, your soul, a chance
to speak to you.
Cherish your child. Protect
her. Nurture her tenderness. Above all, be kind to her. After all, she is
you – the best of you.
Last night I presented
a workshop on Yom Kippur. My friend’s lost hope in his inner child planted
an idea in my mind which I subsequently suggested to the audience: As a Yom
Kippur exercise to access your own innocent essence, find a childhood picture
of yourself and study the photo. Then juxtapose it over your life today. Ask
yourself: How far have I wandered from my own innocence? How much purity have
I lost? How did I get from there to here? And how can I retrieve that purer
part of myself? Ask G-d to help you find ways to reclaim your own innocence.
And perhaps, perhaps –
as the Yom Kippur curtain closes with setting of the sun and the child goes
back into hiding, she will feel a bit safer to show her face more often than
just once a year.
The next day I called
my friend and told him: Your painful hopelessness has given hope to a few
I could feel the warm
smile on the other end of the line.