An SBS Radio Yom Kippur message
by Rabbi Raymond Apple
Senior Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney
Some years Yom Kippur gives us a special reason to find our way to shule. Because of the events of the last twelve months that have torn at our heart-strings, we all have the inexorable feeling that this Yom Kippur we need to be with our fellow Jews, joining the voice of prayer and supplication.
This is what it is to be “at one”, and indeed that is the origin of the English word Atonement – “at one-ment”. We have to be at one with our community, at one with God, and indeed at one with ourselves, even if this means closing ourselves off from the service for a moment of solitariness and meditation.
This is said to be an irreligious age. It is claimed that organised religion is weakening in its hold. Not that this is so evident among Jews, for whom Yom Kippur and Pesach – the hardest days in the calendar to observe – retain their power and pull.
Further, “organised religion” in the Jewish sense is not limited to going to shule – it also means being at one with God and the community whoever we are and wherever we find ourselves, and the Jewish year provides countless opportunities for us to show this.
But even if we grant that there is a weakening of organised religion there is certainly growth in personal spirituality.
For an illustration, we might quote a story in the Midrash. It says a man was walking along and he saw a house doleket. The word means “alight”. He wondered why the lights were on. Then the owner of the house appeared and said, “I am the owner of this house; I am in charge”.
A version says that doleket means “in flames”. The traveller wondered, “Will this house survive?” Then the owner of the house looked out and said, “I might appear to have averted my gaze, but I am still in charge and all will be well”.
The first version suggests that when we look at life we see a light, an energy, a force, something above us – something spiritual. The material world is not the sum total of existence.
The second version suggests that even though there are times when destruction threatens the world, there is still a Master of the Universe, and whatever stupidities humanity gets up to, the world will eventually be safe and we may be assured.
We are attracted to Yom Kippur, both because we have to be with each other, and also because there are times like this when there is a palpable spirituality that draws us to the service.
I look forward to seeing many of the community during these days and wish all of us, and the people and the Land of Israel, every blessing in the years ahead.