The holiest day on the Jewish calendar has come and gone and after a day of reflection I continue along this path and reflect upon the day that has passed. All of us I am sure are grateful that we can now eat and drink again. My gratefulness extends beyond the thankfulness for no longer fasting.
For the first time in 46 years, I spent Yom Kippur as a congregant and not as a rabbi. I was released of the obligations of conducting the service-preaching, teaching, commenting, announcing pages, directing Bimah-pulpit traffic, politely shushing the congregation when the noise level reached unacceptable levels, emceeing and at times, playing stand up comedian. Yesterday I sat with my family and listened-free of the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of rabbis expected to put on an impeccably successful synagogue service. I was able to daaven-to pray with a clear mind and heart, without the preoccupations and anxieties usually associated with the requirement to direct and control the flow of a worship service.
I must confess that there were times that I missed being up on the pulpit in the limelight, playing a role that so many were dependent upon. I especially found it difficult not to be sharing Jewish ideas with others.
Yet, I was blessed with the unique experience of standing alongside wife and children care-freely singing and praying without a thousand eyes observing my every gesture and motion.
I could halt at a particularly inspiring passage or verse and dwell on its meaning without the need to anticipate the next page of the Mahzor-the High Holyday prayer book in preparation for announcing the next page.
I had the freedom to think quietly to myself, to consider a commentary connected to a prayer that caught my attention. Simply, I was grateful for the gift of being able to pray on Yom Kippur.
For the first time in many years I learned what it felt like to be a congregant during these lengthy and elaborate services. With the hindsight of one such Yom Kippur, I would recommend to my colleagues to sit in the pews with their flock prior to assuming the role of rabbi in order to avoid losing touch with the emotional content of the congregant’s worship experience.
As the service unfolded, and a sense of yearning for the pulpit began to assert itself, I silently meditated on my need to be grateful for this change in my life. My prayers were interspersed with these gratefulness meditations, helping me to gain the awareness that Yom Kippur was indeed a time of at-one-ment, allowing me to embrace a new reality in my life and being thankful for it.