The rules of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, instruct us to afflict ourselves in 5 ways for the 25-hour holiday:
- no eating or drinking (not even water)
- no bathing
- no leather shoes
- no body oils or lotions
- no sex
The purpose of this is to help us cultivate focus in our prayers so we can get closer to God as we confess our sins and pray for forgiveness and inscription in the Book of Life for the coming year.
Clearly the ancient Rabbis never heard of “hangry:” how well can anyone focus when they’re hungry?
Just kidding (partially). The idea is that we should be so focused on our prayers that we don’t even think about eating. In theory we are so eager to get to our prayers that we don’t have time to fit in a shower. It’s like we’re in ADHD hyperfocus mode, where everything else falls to the side.
As a side note, I often wonder how it is that on other days of the year I can easily go a day without eating, when I’m in hyperfocus mode on a project, while on Yom Kippur I seem to wake up hungry. Funny how that works, no?
Anyway, on the surface, a day when we restrict our sensory pleasures and spend all day in services, much of it standing, hardly seems like a day of freedom. And Yom Kippur is not particularly known as the “freedom” holiday. That’s Passover’s mantle.
So how is Yom Kippur a holiday about freedom?
It comes from the two main objectives of the day: Confession and Forgiveness.
Multiple times during the prayer services we recite a long confessional listing every sin we conceivably could have committed this past year.
Without the opportunity to speak aloud our misdoings, regrets, and remorse, they live within us as secrets.
There’s a reason why “confession is good for the soul.” Secrets and regrets sit like heavy weights on our soul. They create shame that builds up within us.
Shame separates us from others in the community, from God, and from our true nature.
Through confession, we free ourselves from the heavy weight of shame and regret.
Yom Kippur is the day set aside for us to request forgiveness from God, but before we request forgiveness we are asked to forgive others.
Sometimes it seems that the only thing more difficult than a sincere apology is forgiveness. We humans are interesting characters. We claim to want happiness, yet we often cling to anger and attach to all the ways that others hurt us. It’s as if we believe that the more anger we can generate within ourselves, the more our perpetrator will suffer. In reality, the person who suffers the most from anger is the one who harbors it.
Anger, when left to fester within us, creates toxicity and disease. Since we’re praying to be inscribed in the Book of Life, it only seems fair that we do our part by releasing the toxic emotions that cause disease.
Contrary to popular belief, forgiveness doesn’t require you to absolve the person who hurt you or condone their actions. In fact, you don’t even need to tell the person you’ve forgiven.
Forgiveness is an act of inner work, the process of releasing the anger and resentment settling within you and freeing yourself from their grasp.
Creating Space for Blessings
This is the journey of freedom we get to take on Yom Kippur: freedom from the weight of shame and remorse, and freedom from the toxicity of anger and resentment.
When we free ourselves from these burdens, we create space for the blessings and abundance that are our birthright.