On Rosh Hashanah we cultivate awareness. We are given the opportunity to practise self reflection and look at how we have been living the past year. We identify the parts of our thoughts and our actions that we would like to change in order to live in deeper alignment with our individual and collective values.
Rosh Hashanah is the what – what here needs to change?
Yom Kippur is the how.
Yom Kippur begins with the reading of Kol Nidrei. Kol Nidrei is a very strange prayer. In fact, it’s more of a statement than a prayer. It essentially states that any promises, vows or binds we have entered into over the past and coming year become null and void.
After reciting Kol Nidrei, we effectively become freed from any agreements we have made.
On Yom Kippur we fast. Rather than a fast of punishment or a symbol of lament, the fast of Yom Kippur is conceptualised as a gift. For one day, we can be like the angels. No longer bound by the needs and requirements of the flesh we are free to soar soulfully and wild.
We are freed from our binds – contractually and physiologically.
Freedom and fasting create the perfect condition for an altered state of consciousness.
An altered state of consciousness creates the perfect condition for change.
If we want to do something different, we have to do something different.
Neuroscience teaches us that our brains are plastic, fluid, not fixed. What creates our set ways of being is continuing to be that way. We establish rhythm and get locked into patterns of relating and routine.
We wake up, our neurons start to fire, the same way they did yesterday and we go out into our day – neurons firing – us being us in our unique but stable way.
Last week we threw our transgressions into the waters. I got angry… I withheld… I deceived…
We promised ourselves that we would change.
But how do we change?
It is not enough to think it or know it, we must do it – change happens through action and experience.
In order to make change, real change – we need to create new patterns, new associations, new ways of being.
We do this by doing something different.
In behavioural psychology there is a concept called cognitive dissonance – our distress lies within the space between what we think and what we do. We attempt to bring our thoughts, feelings, speech and actions into alignment in order to feel peaceful and at ease.
Yom Kippur allows us the opportunity to do something different and move towards alignment.
We do not work, we do not eat, we are not bound by obligation, pattern or routine.
We travel through expanses of open space – both physically (in our bellies) and spiritually (in our hearts and minds).
Yom Kippur, the day of atonement is a doorway into different action. When we change our action, we change ourselves. We bring intention and direction to our continuous act of becoming and unfolding.
The ancient Rabbis teach us that Torah is Black Fire on White Fire.
The Black Fire is the text -the narratives, the characters, the feelings, the thoughts, the stories. Everything that has happened so far and the infinite ways we can turn and interpret them.
The White Fire is the empty space. The nothingness between the words.
Most of the Torah is empty space – parchment, potential.
On Yom Kippur we lean into the White Fire, we get high on spaciousness, endless possibility.
Yom Kippur is a portal into an altered state of consciousness and a new way of being.
It is an opportunity to expand and explore through intentionally altered experience.
Freed from the binds of rhythm and routine we enter the doorway into spaciousness –
And bring ourselves into alignment– thought, word, heart and action.
In the words of Debbie Masel (Z”L), my mother teacher of Torah –
Yom Kippur is truly a day of at-one-ment.
May we lean into the White Fire of endless possibility and move forward into the next year with clarity into alignment.