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    Where’s the magic? – Yom Kippur

    The great failure of Yom Kippur is that it often doesn’t engage people with religion.

    Yes, the personnel of the synagogue do their best to convey the message that moves their lives. The words, the tunes, the ambiance all try to exert a magic. The seats are full. The lost tribe has come home. But hardly anyone feels exalted.

    Most people sit and wriggle. They calculate how many more hours it’s all going to take.

    Something is clearly wrong if the place and day of faith fail to arouse much faith.

    Those who are really looking for God wonder why He’s not there. “Seek the Lord while He may be found”, says Isaiah (55:6), but seeking Him in the synagogue doesn’t always work.

    The problem is not simply that most people come in without being switched on. Even the least religious person has spiritual yearnings, wondering about where God is (or if He is), questing for the meaning of life.

    It’s not just that the service is staid and predictable and every congregant knows by heart what the rabbi’s sermon is going to say. It’s something else.

    So often the synagogue has gashmi’ut, material shape, but it lacks p’nimi’ut, inner quality.

    The service talks about justice, but it hardly ever evokes justice in people’s souls. It speaks about atonement, but few are so broken up that they are desperate to repent and atone.

    Where is that spiritual ecstasy when Moses confronted God face to face? Where is King Saul’s collapse to the ground?

    The synagogue doesn’t induce these feelings. It can’t. The synagogue is not stage one in spirituality: it’s stage two.

    Stage one is the humble and contrite heart. It’s turning away from the world including the synagogue. It’s something you do alone. It’s a walk through the trees or by the side of the water, wherever works for you.

    Others will tell you to come back and be with company, but you’re too preoccupied for that. You’re looking for yourself. You’re looking for God. Who knows where your mental meanderings will take you?

    You might find salvation, you might not. But you will probably be shaken – and shaken up. Maybe it will enhance your faith – your faith in yourself.

    Maybe God won’t come into it, though you know you’ve got somewhere if you find the throbbing heart of your life and you can call it God.

    That’s what you need to be doing before Yom Kippur, sorting yourself out and overcoming the past for the sake of the future.

    If this brings you to the synagogue on Yom Kippur, don’t chatter and wriggle. Look around and sense whether all the other people have been through the same process.

    Let the shule endorse the faith you have arrived at on your own.

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