As we enter Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year, we can easily feel consumed by thoughts of guilt and sadness over our past misdeeds. As we listen to the haunting words and melodies of the Yom Kippur liturgy, we might find ourselves wondering, “How can I ever repair the damage I’ve caused others? How can I ever repair the broken relationships in my life?” We might fall into despair, shedding tears of grief and sorrow. But there is another way to view our present situations, another way to view our tears.
In his sefer Shragei Nafishi, Rabbi Yitzchak Leib Stoller describes Yom Kippur through a parable.
Once, a prominent physician came to the aid of a man who had fainted in his home, and no one is his household was able to revive his spirit. The physician observed the man, and noticed that every limb of his body was ice-cold. He felt the man’s forehead, his hands and his feet — all were frozen to the touch.
When the fainted man’s family saw that the physician could not feel any warmth, any signs of life in him, they wept aloud, concluding that there was no hope.
The physician turned to the family and said, “Do not despair, for I have not yet felt this man’s heart! It is possible that there may be warmth, signs of life concealed in his heart.”
When the physician felt the man’s heart, he could feel its warmth — its vibrant beat and rhythmic pulse. The physician turned to the man’s family, and with joy said to them, “My dear children, do not despair for your father will arise once again from his bed! I can sense that there is still a thread of life within his heart! Now, bring me hot water to warm him, and he will recover. But, do not delay in bringing me the hot water, for it is absolutely necessary for the revival of this man!”
Rabbi Stoller explains this parable in the following manner: The prominent physician represents Yom Kippur, because Yom Kippur has the capability to heal the soul of every Jew.
But, when Yom Kippur arrives, it finds us, like the man in the story, fainted, paralyzed, and despondent. Yom Kippur, “feels our foreheads,” which are cold because of the unkind thoughts we’ve considered throughout the year. It “feel our lips,” which are cold because of the evil speech we’ve spoken against one another. It “feels our hands and our feet,” which are cold because of the unkind actions we’ve taken during the past year, and because we ran to do them.
Despite all of this, Rabbi Stoller writes, when Yom Kippur feels our hearts, when it feels that the haunting words and melodies of the day’s liturgy have penetrated our souls, when it feels that thoughts of teshuva (repentance) have occupied our minds, then it can sense the warmth of our being, for the heart and soul of every Jew is warm with life.
Thus, every Jew, no matter how despondent or removed he or she may be, can be revived. But we must “bring the hot water,” we must allow ourselves to shed hot tears — not tears of sadness and grief, but tears of hope. The tears we pour over ourselves on Yom Kippur as tears of purity and sanctity, which have the power to invigorate our souls and give us strength.
Let’s allow the healing hand of Yom Kippur to feel our hearts and touch our souls, so that our spirits, our bodies and our minds may be revived and refreshed — ready to take on the challenges of a new year with energy, compassion and love.
Gamar Chatima Tova! May we, our families and communities be sealed for a healthy and a good year!
Rabbi Dan Millner is the spiritual leader of Congregation Tiferet Israel, Austin’s Modern Orthodox Community. He also proudly serves as a chaplain in the Texas Air National Guard. Doing Good together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.