Recently I signed a new car lease. Why, you might ask, would a rabbi make his lease renewal date only days before Rosh Hashanah? Because his thoughts were elsewhere, focused on just about any other topic. For me, a car is only about getting from point A to point B in the safest, and comfortable, and most affordable, manner possible. I don’t really pay attention to all of the new developments, and advances, in the automotive industry. I do, however, pay far more attention to such things when it comes to bicycles.
And so I was surprised to discover that my new car comes with a host of new features. In three years a lot seems to have changed. Let’s hear it for CarPlay! I am finding it somewhat difficult to adjust to the gas saving feature of the car’s engine turning off at a stoplight. Most remarkable of all is the lane assist technology. A confession. It beeps several times on my short drive from my home to the synagogue. And at times, this new technology, flashes green and gently pulls the car back into the lane.
This seems like the perfect way to understand the upcoming Yom Kippur prayers.
Yom Kippur is all about pulling us back into the lane. In fact Jewish law, halachah, is better translated as path rather than law because it comes from the Hebrew root “to walk.” On Yom Kippur, we confess that it is impossible to walk through life fully attentive. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone commits errors. Yom Kippur loudly declares: “We have all sinned.”
We also acknowledge. We can mend our ways. We can again find the path.
The choice is clear. We can sit privately, in our homes, quietly beating our chests, filling our hearts with regret and remorse. Or we can gather together, as a community, and recite these wrongs together. We gain strength by the communal acknowledgment that we have all done wrongs. We say, “Al cheyt shechatanu–for the sin we have sinned…” And we can do better.
We lift our voices together and gain strength by joining our voices to one another. We wrap our arms around each other, and help steer each other back to the path. Yom Kippur may not be an innovative, and new, technology, but it can work just as well.
There is no greater uplift; there is a sense of renewed strength by our public acknowledgment and communal prayers. After a day of fasting, praying and confessing our mistakes and failings, we together sing one final Adon Olam in the concluding hour of this great and awesome day. It provides us with the courage to steer us back on path.
Allow friends, and family, and most especially your community, to tug on you and say, “We can do better.” Allow the rituals and prayers of Yom Kippur to gently steer you back into the lane.
Rabbi Steven Heneson Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor, a vibrant synagogue on Long Island’s North Shore. His writing appears in a variety of publications including Reform Judaism and The Times of Israel. He also blogs at rabbimoskowitz.com